Getting a quote for children’s pattern making

From my mail comes a reasonable request (let’s call her Simone) worth airing for new visitors as to the process of getting a quote for children’s pattern making services:

I have designed a basic line of children’s clothing that will launch in Summer 2012. I have the sketches- not patterns- necessary for sample production. My collection includes 3 dresses, 1 skirt, 1 tank, 1 pair of shorts and a tunic/bloomer combo.

I see that your prices are $60 / hour. Can you provide a basic idea of how many hours it takes to make a child’s pattern? I know it completely depends on the drawings, but I was hoping you might have a general idea. Also, I’ll need the patterns digitized and graded for 7 sizes (from 12 months to 6 years old). Is there a price per size?

Let’s break this down by deadlines, sketches, sourcing, cost estimates, requested services, services that weren’t requested, continuity and production.

Deadlines: To know your deadlines, season is helpful but also needed is knowing how the goods will be sold. If Simone will sell the goods herself consumer direct, she’s probably okay. If she plans to sell to traditional retailers, her deadline to have everything ready (finished samples, representation, marketing materials and a contractor ) is two weeks from now.

Sketches are a starting point to get your ideas across but the quality of information they impart varies greatly. This entry shows excellent (pretty) sketches of garments that cannot be made but also shows unattractive ones that are useful. Also needed are basic specifications listing seam types, fabrication and hopefully some measurements. Designers are not expected to be experts on seam classes but they are required to describe them either with photos or illustrations so a pattern can be made for them. The necessity of the latter varies by provider, some require tech packages before they will execute the work so be sure to ask.

Sourcing of materials and trims should be well underway by the time you’re looking for a pattern maker because patterns are made specific to a given fabric. Fabrics behave very differently even if of the same weight. You will have needed to conduct shrinkage tests or ask if the pattern service will do this for you so that the pattern is adjusted for it. Contrary to what many think, you should not even design unless you’ve ordered sample fabrics (my book explains how to order as little as five yards from any supplier). Of all the advice I’ve given, this piece results in the most dissent. However, it is also the piece of advice that most people say later was true. If you have patterns made for fabric you can’t find, it’s all a waste.

The other reason to source first -and for everyone regardless of product type– is you need to learn about the sourcing calender. Specifically, when the given fabric shows for the various seasons are held. I’ve had more people than I can count tell me that it doesn’t matter for their sewn product (let’s say a table cloth) because they can sell it year round. Selling is only part of it; you often can’t buy goods except in accordance with apparel markets. Even if you don’t produce apparel, you need to know the heaviest times of apparel production or you may be out of luck with a contractor. But I digress. You need to source fabrics before anything else because you can end up wasting a lot of money on having patterns made with no fabric to use them with.

Cost estimates are impossible absent the above information. In addition to that, the provider needs to know more about your market and price points because the product outcome will depend on those two things (here’s why). In the olden days, it was common to give quotes based on product type (pants vs shirts etc) but that was in an era when most customers knew more about manufacturing. These days, it is more common to work by the hour because so much time is consumed fielding questions or dealing with oversights. Books are cost effective means to lower your costs, I recommend this one.

Another difficulty with giving estimates is based on whether one needs hard or digital patterns -which speaks to another needed bit of information, that of who or how will the production be done. CAD patterns can cost less but it’s not much of a savings if one is using a smaller contractor who needs hard patterns. While Simone mentions she needs the patterns digitized leading one to think she’s on top of this, it’s necessary to explain the details to a provider so there is mutual understanding. No ethical provider wants a client to incur unnecessary expenses.

Requested services can raise a red flag with a provider -but in this case it is good she did so for two reasons. The first reason is that Simone says she will need the patterns digitized and graded for 7 sizes (from 12 months to 6 years old). That she is requesting pattern grading is a red flag because the patterns need to be tested first (again, read this book). If she’s selling via traditional markets, some styles may be dropped (and others added at the last minute) so the money spent on grading patterns is wasted. If she’s going to sell consumer direct, she still needs to go through a few renditions and nail down her sizing specs before ordering grading services.

The second reason this request for quotation raises a red flag is the size range she’s listed, that of 12 mo to (presumably) size 6. It is a problem because it is not possible to grade a size 12 months up to a size 6 because it crosses two size breaks. Separate patterns need to be made and then each of those can be graded. For example, the first pattern grouping is infants, followed by toddlers and then children. Meaning, she will need 3 different patterns sets for each style. So rather than needing 7 patterns (for 3 dresses, 1 skirt, 1 tank, 1 pair of shorts and a tunic/bloomer combo) she will need 21 pattern sets. Separate patterns are needed because people “morph” when they grow but patterns cannot. An infant’s body is their head length divisible by four. A child’s body is their head length divided by 6. Grading a pattern means making the existing shape larger or smaller but grading cannot change shape itself.

Not requesting services: It is not a problem to fail to request complimentary services but you should probably mention why you won’t need those things so that a provider knows you know they need to happen and also, mentioning this implies you know the provider does not throw that in with the job. Specifically, Simone didn’t mention the need of prototypes and samples. For me and many providers, that a customer doesn’t need prototypes is fine as long as you have something lined up to get that done. If you are new to manufacturing, the provider will be concerned about who will provide those services because that party may not be familiar with industry conventions, seam allowances (part two) and also, that sewing instructions don’t come with the pattern. Meaning, if your sample maker sews a professional pattern and it doesn’t come out right, it is going to be a hassle to clear up the confusion. By then though, the provider’s work is done so unless you can justifiably claim the pattern maker’s work was in error, you might not get much help unless you are paying for the pattern maker’s time.

The other service you may fail to request (because you don’t need it) is a referral to a sewing contractor. It is important to mention whether you need this at the time you’re requesting services because many pattern makers don’t take certain kinds of work unless they can make a referral. It is sort of considered part of our jobs. For example, I have done little in the way of knits so I don’t have any knit contractors I can recommend. So if a customer expects me to recommend someone after the fact, it will be a bit difficult. Which is not to say I could not help someone find a suitable party but making a referral is another story (referrals are the grease in this business). As far as my practice is concerned, I don’t do knits because I have so little commercial experience with them but not every provider follows my lead.

Continuity is another concern since this tends to be the number one mistake of new designers. Simone mentions she has designed 3 dresses, 1 skirt, 1 tank, 1 pair of shorts and a tunic/bloomer combo for children. Stylistically she is probably okay but the issue of fabric continuity and design congruence remains. To keep costs low, your fabrics should mix and match. A determination of continuity can’t be made without sketch and fabrication information.

Production: Last but not least, the pattern maker will need to know how the line will be produced if it hasn’t come up by now. The pattern maker will need to make the patterns specific to the operation, their capacity and equipment. You will be expected to facilitate communication between the two parties because there is a lot of mundane details they each need to know. For example is marker making. Who will do that? If the contractor does it, the file format between the pattern maker and production will need to be compatible. If the pattern service makes the marker, they will need to know cuttable width -pulled from the bolt of fabric rather than a description and also, the length of available table for spreading. And a bunch of other stuff.

Here’s a bulleted list of what a provider needs to give a quote:

  • Season you’re launching
  • How the goods will be sold (retailers or consumer direct)
  • Style information: sketches & tech packages
  • Sourcing
  • Market & price points.
  • Requested services -red flags
  • Not requesting services -more red flags
  • Continuity of styles and fabrication
  • Production

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15 comments

  1. Bente says:

    Scary how in a hurry many DE’s are to do their launch when you think about how important the first impression is (and if you want to stay in business) (some just wants to have fun!).
    Simone says she will launch in summer 2012. What does this mean; is she launching her summer 2012 collection or is she having her launch next summer of FW2012/13 collection? It all depends on how she sell/distribute as Kathleen mentioned. If she is selling to retailers she should be finishing writing orders ideally beg. of November this year for SS2012 to be able to produce with a “healthy” timing.
    My first thought was if you know this little about the biz it would be better use more time learning and networking and: read Kathleen’s book!!!

  2. Susannah says:

    What an eye opener! I’ve been sewing from my own patterns for several years but never really knew how much work went into making pattern packets for direct sale. This is a great article about where to start, how to organize your information.
    I do have a question though. It sounds like most designers begin with a sketch or line drawing. I however am a practical sewer, all of my patterns are drafted on pattern material and refined until the pattern yields the look I want. So my pattern pieces already have seam allowances, grain line, darts, etc. built in. If in the future I wanted to sell my patterns how would I change/organize my information for a pattern drafter or grader?

  3. Hi Susannah
    There is so much information on this site, I couldn’t point you to all the entries but these are a start:
    Starting a home sewing pattern company
    Starting a home sewing pattern company pt.2
    Using CAD to produce home sewing patterns
    Why pattern makers don’t want to grade patterns
    Sending patterns off for correction
    Sending patterns off for digitizing

    There are also articles on how to hire a patternmaker to figure out if they are any good, how to check their work, how to know whose fault it is for errors or needed corrections etc.

  4. Susannah says:

    Thanks so much Kathleen!
    I’m going to be spending the next several months pouring over your site, reading some recommended books and researching software. I’ve come to the conclusion that selling my patterns isn’t practical at this time but after some study it may become a goal to look forward to down the road.

  5. Wow… Such a informative topic. I too really want to to move to digitizing patterns but it’s eye opening how expensive it can be just to get 1 pattern digitized let alone doing a entire collection. Thank you for sharing..

  6. Kathleen says:

    I guess expensive is relative -a matter of value really. I wouldn’t consider digitizing to be expensive. The most “expensive” pattern I’ve digitized was a 33 piece pattern and it was complex with a lot of details. That took 1.5 hours to do for a cost of $90.

    Of course $90 can add up but you’d need a lot of patterns to be able to justify the costs of setting up your own digitizing. My costs were >10K for software, 5.5K for a digitizing table and another 11K for the plotter. Throw in shipping (this is heavy stuff that needs to be crated) and you’re looking at around $30,000. Of course, that figure doesn’t include the cost of education, training (@$100-$250 p/h) and experience because a CAD system won’t make patterns for someone anymore than microsoft word could write a book for them.

    I think it is good to do a cost benefit analysis. If you’re small, sewing yourself and have pattern skills, it is a cost saver to do patterns manually in house. Once you get a little bigger tho, your time becomes more valuable and it is more cost effective to hire a specialist.

  7. kathleen gerber says:

    Other than the fact I did not ask you the initial question, I COULD be “Simone”.
    Thank you for your detailed response. I just may cancell my meeting this week with a pattern maker. I am not ready yet.

    I do have a related (I think) question.

    I cannot draw. Can. Not. Is it appropriate for me to bring in vintage patterns with notes for the pattern maker how I’d like them to be tweaked? (for example, zipper instead of button placard, jewel neckline instead of crew, etc.)

    I look forward to hearing feedback.

    Thank you

  8. Brina says:

    Kathleen Gerber,

    If you’d be asking your patternmaker to take the vintage pattern and make the changes, then no, it’s not appropriate, in fact it’s illegal. If you are using the drawing on the pattern to show the patternmaker more or less what you want with changes, then yes that is okey. I wonder though, if you have any idea what size your sample pattern would be–you’d need to know the measurements so the patternmaker would have something to go on, sizewise.

  9. Kathleen Gerber says:

    Brina:

    Thank you. I do have a lot to learn.

    I am going to lay out what my game plan was, and pattern makers, after rolling your eyes, please educate me on how I can better serve you (and of course, myself).

    I have read Kathleen F’s posts on what to and not to expect when visiting, but I still have super-novice questions.

    For a little girls’ line (ages 3-8), I was going to go in with my sketches, supplementing with photos of similar patterns for reference. For example, I’ll be doing a classic a-line tent dress, but with two ties on either side of the dress so, when tied, it looks less tenty. This way, the younger girls can put the dress on themselves without the use of a back zipper. Well, when I draw this tent dress, it ends up looking like a trapezoid with four arms.

    With regards to measurements, I truly was thinking two things that I now have a feeling I am off base, but please tell me how much.
    1) sizing: I figured I could ask for a pattern in a size six, and the pattern maker would just use industry standards in the size
    2) measurements: neckline, arm hole, length, width of dress – are there not typical measurements used if I ask for, say, a boat neck, knee length, dress ?

    Also, if I were to bring in my own, home sewn sample, would a good pattern maker simply duplicate it, or would I be fortunate enough to have him/her take my crooked armhole and clean it up for production purposes?

    I recognize there is much I do not know. So any guidance is welcome

    Kathleen g

  10. Brina says:

    Regarding measurements–it’s up to you to decide the measurements a particular size in your line has. Patternmakers do not pull these out of their pockets (or heads). And nope there are no typical measurements, because maker is different, those some can be similar.

    FWIW, if you make a dress to pull over a young child’s head, the neckline has to be really large–probably larger than would be a good idea–you’ll need some sort of closure, even if its not a zipper, unless you do those overlapping shoulders like infant T-shirts.

    You could purchase pattern blocks for the sizes you’d like and have your patternmaker make the changes based on those sizes. You can also get measurement charts–there are some online for free, lots of patternmaking books have them and have your patternmaker use those as the basics for sizes. A possible problem would be what if the size 6, say, in the blocks or chart fits more like you want your 4 to fit. So, you do need to have an idea of sizing, unless you are willing to just go with what is out there.

    And no I would not recommend using your ‘sample’ if it has major problems, unless you just want to show her the basic style–not a good idea to have the patternmaker copy it.

    I’m sure at this point you should have Kathleen’s book, if you don’t already and join the forum, where there are a lot of people like you, and more specific information.

  11. Kathleen says:

    Hi Kathleen, I concur with what Brina has said. You have access to the forum so that is the best place to get targeted suggestions for your questions. You might want to poke around in the grading section or post questions there. We can post a lot of links that will help you. Alternatively, you can look through the grading category here on the blog to find all of the children’s grading posts.

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