Design sketch analysis

Aren’t you annoyed by people rubber necking as they drive by car wrecks? I found one on the web that just won’t let me go. Yes, it’s Levi’s Project Runway. I tell you, everybody’s gotta get into the act. There, anyone can upload their ideas and Levi’s (and you) pick the winner. As you can imagine, that’s where the car wreck comes in. And there is wreckage galore with guts strewn mile after mile, making it hard not to stare. I think it qualifies as an attractive nuisance. The site is a bit wonky. Sometimes when you click through on a design, the page looks blank –scroll up, it’s there.

I decided to do something productive with it, namely design sketch analysis. Thus, I’ve selected a few to share with you with an eye towards improving your renderings when passing it off to a service provider. An aesthetically pleasing sketch really isn’t important. Some are gorgeous but can’t be made. On the other hand, some very unattractive ones were entirely suitable for working purposes.

Language usage was a common problem. While we don’t expect you to have the lingo down, try not to be contradictory with your descriptions. I don’t know how you can have a “high waist hip hugger” (below). It’s one or the other. This pant also doesn’t have a CB seam, something that comes up repeatedly.


Here’s another one somewhat similar. There’s a conflict between the description “low rise” and the provided measurement of 9″. Nine inches isn’t a low rise, that’s waist high. A service provider is going to wonder which it is. This sketch also lacks seaming. And by the way, sketches like these are very typical!

The height of the band on this next one annoys me. There’s no way to know whether the designer really wants it that high -riding just below the nipple- or if the band is supposed to hit under the bust. Recently, there’s been a spate of poorly made tops that have the empire “waist” riding the bust line rather than under the bust where it belongs. I can’t tell if this poorly made pattern has become so prevalent that people now think it’s supposed to be that way, or they’ve decided they like the look. I think it looks moronic. This designer’s made a notation that this will “camouflage the tummy”. Somehow, I don’t think it’ll come out like that.

Don’t laugh at this next one, I see stuff like this all the time. It’s a pleated “pencil skirt”. How can a pleated skirt be a pencil skirt? Made as sketched, this is plus sized but I don’t think that’s what the designers (a dad and daughter) intended. The conflict is between the description, costs, and width and quantity of pleats. An accurate illustration would show the skirt significantly wider than it is long. The spec for the pleats are 2.5″ with a 5/16 gap between them. The sketch shows 11 pleats which -just for the front- finishes at 30″ inches. Doubling that and we have a total waist measurement of 60″ on this pleated “pencil” skirt. Wow. Allowing for turn back on the under pleat (multiply by 3) and we’re talking serious fabric allocation. Now imagine what this would look like in denim. See what I mean by car wreck?

I call this next one, “just because you can draw it -or photoshop it- doesn’t mean you can make it”. Hands down, this is the biggest problem with sketches. People think that just because they can draw it, it can be made as illustrated. This is probably the number one problem with sketches. And designers get mad or insinuate you’re incompetent if you tell them that!

This next one I describe as an allocation nightmare. There were tons of these so I won’t elaborate beyond this one example. People, you need to include seam lines. Cutting the front and the sleeves in one piece will use much more fabric than you can possibly imagine. Not to say it’s not done but the design usually has interesting design lines compelling the project. Usually designs aren’t this obvious but we won’t know which you really want and which you really don’t. Watch those seam lines, copying them from existing garments. It matters. Really.

Of course not all sketches were bad. Here’s two from the same designer. I’m guessing this girl either sews or sketched on the basis of a photo of a well fitting garment. The asymmetrical top on the left hits perfectly under the bust. This is exactly correct. The blue one gets bonus points. I don’t know if you can see the midriff cupping the bust. The bust portion has (necessary) gathers where it meets the midriff. Good show.

I picked this next one because I want to illustrate that a sketch doesn’t have to be a work of art to be usable. The proportions are all there. She’s spec’ed it to include a side zipper, I can see it’s fitted. The bust obviously gathers into the midriff. The only thing I’d want to ask is about the skirt. Is it straight but cut A-line, or is it gathered into the midriff or a combination of both? This sketch is definitely something one can work from.

Ditto for this next sketch. I’d have a couple of questions but it’s workable too although I’m not wild on charcoal for renderings. All the seams are there, the fitting lines, proportions etc. A sketch doesn’t have to be beautiful to be usable but we have to have something.

The cost of producing some designs is too high when demand and market are thrown into the equation so a service provider will advise against the attempt. Here’s a “couture” gown; I think she means evening or formal attire. The dress is entirely constructed of 501 back pockets. This is a tremendous amount of sewing when compared to what it’d sell for. It’s a novelty item, not something that would end up on the red carpet.

Speaking of costing too much, below are two designs that just aren’t going to happen. Not in denim and not by Levi’s. One was the only one I commented on, mentioning product development costs and the designer (smugly) responded that a company of Levi’s size wouldn’t have a problem with costs nor execution. Really? If a company isn’t producing similar styles already, it’s not because they haven’t thought of it and are waiting for you to come along with your great idea. I just want to sigh and roll my eyes when designers argue about things of which they know nothing. Just for grins, anyone care to take a guess as to how many pattern pieces for each? Just calculate the portions you can see. Then guesstimate allocation and how long it’d take to sew it. In denim and at moderate price points. Heh.

Below is another one not likely to happen as-is although the style lines are interesting. Check out the back neck and collar. This one could best be described as mismatched to the product price points. Levi’s won’t do this in denim but I could definitely see the jacket in a high end leather line -minus some of that superfluous design stitching on the front. That’s another thing, if bodies are strong enough as this one is, resist the impulse to gunk it up.

This last one I included because it was designed by a six-year old and it’s pretty good (the croqui template is provided by Levi’s). All the style lines are there, seam lines, the neckline is interesting etc. It’s even marketable. One could make a pattern based on this sketch. Kind of puts “designing” in perspective if a six year old can do it. It’s a good thing hard skills are needed to make patterns, otherwise there’d be more of us out of work.

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32 comments

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Morgan’s “Dress for Mama” is the best one of the bunch- she even has some of the terminology down! And her “croquis” template was a decent proportion to begin with. I say vote for the kid :)

  2. Mimi says:

    LOL, okay let me just say that my daughter talked me into entering the Levi Project Contest and so I did. I came to visit your blog as I do daily and gasped when I saw what you were talking about. As I read and scrolled down my heart was thumping and I could think was please dear god dont let me design be here…LOL it was not, but maybe you didnt see it…LOL

    Thanks :)

  3. Jennifer E. says:

    This reminds me of illustration class – all the above problems occurred and more – no back seam that was classic actually had a girl try and argue you could do it the way she sketch it. I just looked up my old denim project circa 2002 from when I was applying for jobs – oh my I am glad it was not posted for KF to see. I forgot the top stitching lines among other things on the flat but the fashion sketch is pretty cool – not as good Danielle’s stuff

  4. /anne... says:

    I vote for the Girl Who Can Draw. I LOVE the blue pinafore dress on the right – I can really see DD wearing it. I love the way all the horizontal seam lines work well together. I’ll probably leave the pockets off and the extra topstitching below them, mostly because I couldn’t be stuffed doing the extra work :-)

  5. Timo Rissanen says:

    Thank you as always. I choked on my breakfast and cannot stop giggling. My favourite is the leaning-shirt-of-Pisa with sleeves so skinny one would have to have the flesh cut off the bones to get the arms in. Not to mention the high armholes, which would only work if one’s arms were attached by the skin on the shoulder.

    And the ‘high-waist hip-huggers’… In my eyes, the piece of genius doesn’t even hit the natural waist, let alone a high-waist. But I suspect that’s a generational thing; until the last year or two, most of my students weren’t familiar with anything other than hipsters and generally they don’t believe me when I tell them where the waist is. So, time and again pants that sit at the waist are described to me as high-waisted. (I felt really old writing that paragraph.)

    Ain’t this the truth: “People think that just because they can draw it, it can be made as illustrated. This is probably the number one problem with sketches. And designers get mad or insinuate you’re incompetent if you tell them that!” As for missing crotch seams on pants, I tend to pull out a pant block and ask the student to explain how he/she will go about eliminating the crotch seams whilst retaining the close fit usually depicted. Some responses are as funny as the sketches here. This, of course, won’t work with a client unless one wishes to scare them away permanently.

    Thank you. Can’t wait to see what actually comes out of this…

  6. Justine says:

    I’m doing my second semester in design, and we’re doing pant projects right now. I have to say, this post was very entertaining, and a great break from slaving away from my pant design (I’m doing jeans). However, I just about put my hands over my face in horror when I saw the jeans with the triple-fly. I think my instructor would just laugh at my face (or yell, haha) if I told her I wanted to make that.

  7. Trish says:

    Kathleen, your mention of the “poorly made tops that have the empire “waist” riding the bust line” felt so great to read since these ill designed little tops make me totally crazy. I think the first ones were incorrect patterns… now, I think the style took on a life of its own…like something from a swamp!!! Just hideous… but then I am old and expect things to actually look good.

  8. Kathleen says:

    Regarding the pants in the sketch above the “dress for Mama”. I was on the fence about including the following comment in the body of the entry.

    The following isn’t something every designer is likely to know unless they’ve made a lot of patterns and have a lot of experience. The front, particularly the crotch area, is going to look awful. With those tucks feeding fullness into the lower front crotch, it’ll look poochy on nearly every woman where she can least afford it. If she’s thin, she’ll have a wad. If she’s not (and has had kids), her baby belly pooch will be on display for all to enjoy. Yum. That area should be cut as flat as possible. Besides, it doesn’t need tucks or darts right there from the waist, not with the style lines of the pockets. The style lines create great (optimal really) pattern design and fitting options for a pattern maker. The reason why it’ll pooch is because with the side style lines so deep, there’s no real way to anchor those pocket bags to form a stay unless they’re anchored to the zipper stand and I’m dismayed at how too few take that step. Even if the pocket bags are tacked to the zipper, with the spread of the pockets over the hip, the anchoring will exacerbate a wad or minimally bunching off to either side of the zipper due to the released fullness from the tucks at the waist.

    Then, there’s the matter of where the pockets hit. These style lines, hitting the fullest part of the hip, will make the hips look wider. If you have narrow hips, this style will be flattering on you but few others.

    If a designer gave me this sketch, I’d attempt it because it’s kind of cool and a challenge but I wouldn’t give any guarantees we’d hit it by the second iteration. Maybe the third sample would work out. Also, I’d strenuously recommend that the tucks be removed. With the pattern fitting options provided by the style lines, the tucks are unnecessary, an impedance.

    Oh, and I’d suggest redesigning that waist band. It’ll thicken the waist where one can least afford it. The waist will be thicker with all of the layers of seaming in such a small area. Besides, the horizontal lines add width.

  9. Suzanne says:

    Hahahahahaha!!! I like the 6-year-old’s sketch the best. Also, I thought there was something wrong with my body that all of the empire waists hit 3/4 of the way down on my chest. Very uncomfortable and very unflattering. UGH.

    Thanks for the lesson and the laughs. I feel better about myself because I draw seam lines and my pictures are not pretty AT ALL. lol

  10. Amy says:

    Great blog! The examples and comments are SO helpful for we newbies who need an idea of what sketches can actually work to get the point across.

  11. Karen C says:

    The three-zippered pants are sooooo wrong for so many reasons. Two of which: what women wants to look twice as big in the abdomen area; and if it’s for men, what kind of freak show are we at?

    Are new designers taught anything about proportion or Fibonacci numbers, and what actually looks good, style-wise, on the body? I see so many designs where it’s just slap as much crap on the piece as you can, and call it great.

  12. J C Sprowls says:

    To Karen’s point: No, they’re not.

    I only studied style and art as part of my design curriculum after I got to Europe. In the US classes, they seem to think that you come in with raw talent and magically refine your “voice” through practice. Why they don’t just skip the noise and head straight to the study and learn from those who came before makes little sense to me. Reverse engineering reveals so much more. I digress.

    When I saw 3 zipps all I could say was: WTF?! I don’t know if the model looks wider because of the effect of the 3 zipps or because the artist spliced her crotch three times. From a practical perspective I vote to nix it. Only one can be functional because of the user’s habit. Nobody wants to learn how to wear a garment.

    And, while I very much like the jean and jacket concept… it will need to be commercialized before it can be afforded by the end consumer. Those types of sketches I don’t mind so much. It’s the conversation that must inevitably follow that gives me aggita: “Great concept! I’d love to play with it and make it a reality. There’s so much curiosity and interest in those details. *BUT* I’ve got X hours to work on making you something that generates cashflow and a fair margin. How do you see this ___? Have you considered ___? What if we ___?”

  13. Lisa Bloodgood in Portland says:

    I do like the lines on the 2 sketches above the last one, but I can totally see how much time and resources they would take.

    If the same people are teaching, the instructors for fashion illustration at my school were pretty good about making sure you had all the seams etc. in your sketches.

  14. Lisa Bloodgood in Portland says:

    P.S. I don’t like the empire line on those tops to hit mid-bust either. The only reason I can see is that the few dress forms at my school that were big sizes had very small busts and we all know that a large percentage, perhaps the majority, of plus-sized women have a bigger bust than that. Now for the smaller-busted women, it usually seems to not turn out so badly, but it’s not perfect unless you make the pattern to fit you. It looks really sadly stupid on the largest-busted women, no matter how cute the shirt is. IMHO, anyway, all of the above.

  15. ioanna says:

    ‘high-waist hip-huggers’ ha ha ha. It reminded me of my first ever class involving patternmaking. Ok, it was a community class to teach people to make their own clothes but still, I was so frustrated that following the instructor’s directions every single article of clothing would come out really big on the waist and pulling up… As I never really intended to draft for my measurements I moved on to making patterns using size charts and patternmaking books and it all seemed to turn out fine so I put the thought aside…until one day I realized that the nice lady had no idea where the waist was so she taught us to measure wrong! The actual waist was way higher than her instructions!

  16. marietta says:

    i am so there with you! it kills me when a designer comes to me with a rendering and i have to break down every element of a design because they just can’t render it – and yes i have had designers ask for things to happen that defy all the rules of physics and common sense- such as rouching at CF without a seam!!! (and it had to be smooth at the side seams…..)

  17. Sybil says:

    Hysterical! A little hard on designers at times tho’. There are some scary patternmakers out there too! Then you have patternmakers who think they are designers and the list goes on…I’m a designer turned technical designer who works with patternmakers, designers and sample makers and we’re all very opinionated : ).

  18. dmitriy says:

    Can someone please explain what is wrong with the triple-fly concept? I agree that it’s hideous, but I don’t see how it’s technically impossible. Thank you.

  19. Kathleen says:

    If you say it’s possible, draw up a sample pattern as a proof and link to it so we can discuss it.

    As a practical matter, logically speaking, if we’re already on the wrong track, how can you expect us to prove that you are “right” for you? We’re wrong, so how can we even know to prove you right? That’s giving the benefit of the doubt that we could even be capable of proving a negative.

    Better that you enlighten us by illustrating what you mean, could be interesting!

  20. dmitriy says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    I was not asking you to prove me right, and of course one cannot prove a negative.

    My initial thought was that the extra flies don’t have to be functional, and it’s easy enough to topstitch the extra flaps.

  21. Kathleen says:

    Dmitriy, I think you should sketch it out. I wasn’t kidding or being sarcastic when I said the exercise would be interesting.

  22. Clara Rico says:

    A comment about large sixes with a small bust. I was amazed at how many maternity clothes have a small bust. My mom gave me a very cute top with plenty of room for a large belly, but with a B cup bust! Have you ever seen a pregnant woman with a B cup? At least I could wear it unbuttoned as a jacket. Since then I’ve come to believe that the layered look many teens wear is motivated by clothes that don’t fit or have too low a neck line for modesty.

  23. ESPOB says:

    I wonder if people don’t draw seam lines because in reality, many seams are fairly unobtrusive and not really decorative elements, so they don’t worry about how the object has to actually be sewn together.
    My sister and I have been working on designing her wedding dress together, which I will make from our sketches. The way it goes is that she draws a sketch, and I take it and start to refine things or add seam lines to try and figure out what she’s really getting at…. but every time I start to draw a seam, she says, “Oh no, absolutely not, I don’t want a seam there!” So I start to draw a dart or tuck somewhere, or a seam somewhere else, and she doesn’t like that either. She doesn’t want princess seams; she doesn’t want a seam up the back; she doesn’t want bust darts; but she wants a fitted dress.
    Finally I drew a cylinder and said that if she doesn’t want seams in any of those places, that’s what her dress will look like. She believed me, but still didn’t want any seam lines in the pictures because it prevents her from visualizing a dress that doesn’t have big dark lines on it.
    I also found that I have to be very careful to draw attractively proportioned pictures, even if I just want to ask her about one small detail and would rather just scrawl it out quickly (neither of us is an artist!); if the picture looks chubby, she won’t like any feature of anything it’s wearing; if it looks skinny she’ll like it.
    I think all of this comes about is because while I’m interested in the construction of the dress, since I have to figure out how to make it, she is only interested in the “image” of herself in the dress. I suspect that most of these sketches are made by people with an idea in mind that is more soft focus, emotion, and an image of the person wearing the garment, than any actual concept of how the item is put together. Image is vague and emotional; seams are specific and geometric. So someone who is thinking about image can make a beautiful, artistic sketch that conveys an image without ever thinking to get specific about geometry.

  24. chanel says:

    question can a fashion designer really call herself a fashion designer when they are primary a sketch designer ….wonderful ideas but have other construct their ideas

  25. Seth Meyerink-Griffin says:

    Dmitriy: The triple fly won’t work *as pictured* because the fly needs to be set into a seam to work. As it is, there is no seam allowance for the fly or fly facing. Had they illustrated seam lines, say, going down the front of the leg, then they’d be possible.

  26. Laura H says:

    It never occurred to me that one needs to draw in seamlines. I can sew but when I must draw, I need to trace a shape for proportion and scribble all sorts of instructions beside my mock drawing. I sew; I wear clothing. I change necklines and sleeves and hems, but I am a practical home seamster, NOT a designer.

    So it never occurred to me that the problem with the sailor-front pants is lack of a seam. If the pants are to be worn by humans and not ragdolls, there will be a back seam. Of course you have a seam there.

    Triple fly front: one or two are appliques and are mock, not functional. Could do it, don’t want to. Stupid idea.

    The nipple belt seems bondage inspired, and is not a look I want in mainstream clothing, or for anyone with any bust development at all.

    Multiseam garments offer multiple opportunities for the seams to rub unpleasantly. Anyone who wears clothing ought to know better.

  27. Kathleen says:

    This made me chuckle:

    Multiseam garments offer multiple opportunities for the seams to rub unpleasantly. Anyone who wears clothing ought to know better.

    Chafing seams make me crazy (and probably you too) but unbelievable as it may be, they don’t bother most people. Maybe you have dyspraxia like me. Most people who have it don’t realize they do. I’ve noticed a lot of sewers seem to have characteristics of it.

  28. Chekwube says:

    Thanks again for this post Kathleen. As an aspiring new designer with no technical background, I’ve been worrying about these. But I have a lot more planing to do before getting to this stage. This post helped me put it in perspective and led me to do some additional research.

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