How to hire a pattern maker pt.46

[No, there are no other such titled entries but I’ve written of it plenty.]

From my mail:

I have been reading your book and I am very excited to be part of the community. My partner and I are starting a novelty sock line and I’m looking for a patternmaker. I’ve been scouring your site and reading your book on how to hire a pattern maker and searching for sewing contractors. I set up an appointment with a pattern service [site deleted] for next Tuesday, but I am thinking of canceling or postponing the appointment based on some of the advice offered in your book. The lady I spoke with (Rebecca) was quite friendly but vague about pricing. She said that “prices vary from project to project”. I clearly stated that I wanted a pattern and dummy made. Since I’m designing socks, I can’t imagine the patterns costing more than patterns for a shirt or pants. She asked that we set up an initial meeting and that I bring my sketches, flats, swatches and prototype. Being a newbie (aka a bit paranoid), it seems that her site and what she told me is not that much to go on. On the other hand, she has worked with many designers and stores that I recognize. Should I do more screening before I meet with her in person?

There’s several things going on here:

  1. Selecting an appropriate pattern maker for your product
  2. The scope of needed services (and the costs)
  3. What you need to bring to a meeting
  4. Site and corporate image
  5. Existing client list
  6. Verifying the veracity of a service


Selecting an appropriate pattern maker for your product
Everybody knows I’m a pattern maker so my experience -none, as it happens with this product- couldn’t be more direct. If you came to me, I’d have to refer you elsewhere. Just because one is a pattern maker, doesn’t mean one is qualified for this job. Based on a review of this pattern service, I’d guess they aren’t either and they should have said so rather than setting up an appointment with you. You don’t want someone who’s going to wing it, learning at your expense. We have a couple of knit sweater designers who hang around here so maybe they’ll pipe up. One of our pattern makers (Esther) has also done some knitwear and I look forward to her response.

The scope and costs of needed services
I couldn’t begin to estimate how long it’d take to make a sock pattern. There’s knit pattern, shape and potential color changes. If anything, I’d guess that pattern prices for garments (sportswear you mention like shirts and pants) would be lower because these are largely template items. The size of the garment or product is immaterial. Pants and shorts cost essentially the same. From a drafting standpoint, it costs nearly nothing to extend a draft. It costs more in fabric usage but not drafting time. Another example; I declined to submit a bid for a utility glove yesterday because it was so specialized, with an enormity of possible configurations, that it’d be too costly (ROI). Many people think that because something is small, the engineering costs are too. Also, there aren’t as many pattern makers for knitted sweaters and the like so they may be able to charge more hourly. Just as a garment pattern maker must know how to sew, a knit wear pattern maker must know how to knit -and know knitting in a commercial environment- and not all pattern makers do. I don’t. From what I can tell, this service does not specialize in pattern design for knitted products.

What you need to bring to a meeting
Rebecca wasn’t out of line in her suggestions. Any professional will need these items to render an estimate.

Site information and corporate image
The quality of one’s site (or lack thereof) should never be the defining criteria to select a service. Frankly, many are too busy to mess with it so they don’t need to. There’s a big gap between the expectations of sophisticated web users getting into the industry and those already in the business. While there are exceptions, posting prices on a website is most typical of consumer sites. There are plenty of sites selling products for mom and pop operations that post their prices but generally, services rarely do. There’s too much potential for confusion. DEs often think their products are really simple and will base their cost expectations according to prices (assuming they’re posted) and will then think they’re being ripped off if their costs are quoted at a higher rate. At best, services may quote their hourly fees for given services or provide broad estimates (with respect to services like grading per piece).

Existing client list
Other than the caveats below (see verifying the veracity of a service), have you looked at the products from these clients? I did. Names don’t impress me, product quality does. One of those clients (the highest profile one) was reviewed here on F-I and if that had been my client, I’d never admit it publicly. Not that the quality was bad, just that the product line was diffuse, comprised entirely of orphans. And not that the service is to blame (although I’d refuse to work with a client who did that) but the result isn’t something to which I’d want to associate my name. Maybe if a service is new and they can’t be picky but I am wary of services who do whatever the customer wants if it is not in the client’s best interest (be careful what you wish for). Clients need guidance and advice to avoid pitfalls. If a service doesn’t speak up about that, what else are they not saying? Likewise, the final product quality put out by a client isn’t necessarily the service’s fault either but I wouldn’t advertise a past client who put out stuff that embarrassed me. Summary: none of these clients impressed me. Based on the client list, I think the service is taking whatever clients they can get. Sure, we’re all in business to make money but you have to build a reputation to get work. We get most referrals from our colleagues -not our customers- so I’d worry more about how a competitor evaluates my work, rather than how a client does. I’m not saying this service is bad but based on their client portfolio, I wouldn’t send anyone to them without knowing more about them. Perhaps they have other unadvertised clients that have great products.

Verifying the veracity of a service
Have you contacted the companies she advertises having worked for? I notice there are products on her site that belong to other customers. Are these items there with the knowledge and consent of her clients? There’s been a lot of problems with services advertising without expressed consent (also discussed in the forum). I would contact these clients and ask. I wouldn’t hesitate either. If it’s with permission, the client must assume people will be contacting her or him for references. If it’s without permission, well, I think that’s an answer unto itself. Why would the service extend you the courtesy of confidentiality if they’re not doing it for their existing clients?

Related:
How to hire a pattern maker pt.46
How to hire a pattern maker pt.47
How to hire a pattern maker pt. 48

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7 comments

  1. Esther says:

    Yes, I have worked with knitwear on a few different levels. I have done patterns and spec’ing for cut & sew knitwear made of sweater like fabric, interlocks, jerseys, etc. I wish I knew more about it. I fell into it out of necessity because as Kathleen hinted, there are very few qualified individuals with the necessary experience.

    I also do hand knitting, mostly as a hobby. I hand knit socks too so I can comment on what would be needed in a commercial product. A regular pattern maker would not be able to draw up the specifications needed for commercial manufacturing. There is yarn type, yarn size, needle size, gauge, etc. Do you want that seam on the toe? A basic sock falls into a simple formula and the outcome is determined by the inputs.

    Probably the best suggestion is to go directly to a sock manufacturer. Chances are they have technical designers and/or technicians that could whip out a sample in no time. They would most likely be able to refer suitable knitwear designers/pattern makers. I would suspect the knitwear industry is even smaller than sewn product manufacturing.

  2. nadine says:

    I agree with the above comment. So many small start up companies want a local person to make their patterns and prototypes but don’t realize that they will have to do that all again with their manufacturer. I do some freelance work with a company that specializes in socks and gloves. For them it is a spec’ing game. They send detailed specs for knits they send a knit graph or grid (don’t know the professional name) and wait for the sample from the factory. Local people can make a prototype if the factory can’t figure out some detail but that’s all we are good for since we don’t manufacture and we don’t have local connections to specialized manufacture which in many cases is long gone from the US. All manufacturers have in house sample making capability, pattern blocks etc. So you just need to tweak some details but can start with something close.

    My experience in accessories is that the small design firms want local samples because they intend to use them to “sell” at a show or for some “selling or showing” purposes. Maybe having something tangible gives a feeling of accomplishment. However, since the mfg side of the equation is not solved they are in a rut if they can’t get it made once those orders come in. My advice which is ignored a lot is to solve your mfg first and your designs will come! What’s the use if the local sample maker can lovingly make something by hand but the factory can’t figure it out?

    Good post as usual!

  3. Teijo says:

    I don’t have any personal experience in this field, but the subject does bring back some memories.

    A dear friend of mine had a line that included socks and stockings. She once told me that while her contractors were able to produce items that would last many years most of their clients did not want that. She did. The name of her brand was woven boldly into the soles of her styles, and while the price was not low they were made to last.

    Two days ago I wore a pair of socks that I inherited from her about ten years ago. A fashion photograph I happened on in the archives of a modeling agency dates them as being manufactured in the mid-1980s. The three pairs of her socks I own have lasted even as all others I’ve bought have been destroyed – and they weren’t new when I got them.

    My friend’s niece has owned the company and the brand for some years now, but even now, every now and then when I take off my shoes to enter someone’s home or a Japanese inn, the soles of my feet advertise the legacy of a designer who took pride not only in the form but also in the quality of her products.

  4. Georgene says:

    At first reading, one wonders why you would need a patternmaker for a sock design. A knitted product is generally done thru technical specification as noted by Nadine above.

    However, this potential client may have a different concept, more along the lines of a non-knitted Polartec sock (see the Green Pepper pattern), and that is not made clear by the question. I would have to say ‘not enough info’ for a full reply.

    I have done a ton of knit sweater development in my checkered career. I do not knit, but I did learn about yarn size, stitches, and gauge, in order to be able to specify my designs to commercial manufacturers. I’m just a designer/patternmaker that happened to be designing sweaters for a awhile. There are a lot of different kinds of knitting out there, and vanishingly few are available in the USA today.

    In the greater NYC metropolitan area it is still possible to do what is known as ‘cut and sew sweater knits’. Strips of sweater cloth with a finished sweater start are knitted, then laid up and cut by specialized sweater cutters. It’s very different at the cutting end of things, then becomes more like a regular knit cut and sew in stitching. At the end, in finishing, cut and sew sweaters have to be pressed on a special frame, so the end of the process is very different too. For this you do need to make a pattern, and graded sets of patterns. There is a lot of wastage, as there can be a lot of scrap after cutting. Since yarn, dyeing, and knitting are paid *by the pound*, you are just throwing money away with the scrap.

    Full-fashioned sweater knitting, the actual shape of the sweater is knit to size with finished edges and then linked together on a special machine. This way, you do not throw away yarn. It is a very different process, and not much done in this country anymore. For full-fashioned knitting, you would do a detailed technical specification rather than an actual pattern, and probably have to send it to China, India, Bangladesh, or Peru.

    That is why I would say ‘not enough info’, having no real clue what this product actually entails. To say “I have a sock design I want to make” doesn’t tell me much. I am guessing that this person doesn’t need a ‘regular’ patternmaker. No harm in paying a visit to the one that they found, just for the excercise of getting their stuff together and making their presentation to the pattern service. Chances are however that this is not the right service for them and they will have to go father afield.

  5. Emma says:

    Ive was working with socks for a major apparel company a few years back and I agree with the above. Patterns are not used, only m.charts and technical specifications. If we are takling about regular (fine-knit) socks they are knitted in round knitting machines, 2 or 3 sets of needles. A flat pattern is of no use at all.

    Things that will affect the m.ments are e.g. compozition of the yarn, gauge and which supplier you are working with (which machines they have and how they are set).

    If you are making nylon stockings that is a totally diffrent process which requiers special measuring tools and I would personally (if I had my own business) leave the “pattern making” to the supplier. No doubt! :)

    Good Luck!

  6. Liana says:

    I just got a book called “The Art of Knitting” by Francoise Tellier-Loumagne (ISBN-13: 978-0-500-28557-2) that is kind of an overview of what one can do with modern industrial knitting machines, as well as other techniques. She talks a lot about the fact that design schools don’t prepare students to design knitwear or knitted fabric well, and in most cases, it’s because the newer types of machines to make these fabrics are unavailable to the schools, because of price, and also because a particular type of machine may be made to make a particular item or fabric for one manufacturer. Lots of them are proprietary, and they don’t even want students visiting. In some cases, the machine manufacturers own the machines and they customize them for each fabric, so what made the hot thing a few years ago may not even exist anymore, as it’s been re-tooled for something new. As you may guess, they’re not in the US either.

  7. Emma says:

    Oops, I found a little type-misstake in my post earlier..sock knitting machines normally have 1 or 2 sets of needels. :) (haha…if anyone´s that interested that is.)
    /Emma

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