How to hire a pattern maker pt.47

MC writes:

I am having great difficulty figuring out the best possible way to handle the following situation. I hired a freelance pattern maker to develop a total of five patterns (we are doing women’s contemporary sportswear). For four of them, we had provided an original sample with our exact fit and measurements from which to start. Starting off, we gave her one pattern and we felt it was good enough to give her the other four sketches and samples.

We are unhappy with the results so far and don’t think we’re getting good value. She charges $85 an hour (which I felt was warranted with her 35 years experience and good first sample). At this point we have shelled out $3,000.00 to her and only one of the five samples is satisfactory. We have gone through 2 fittings now, and from the first fitting to the second, there were no visible changes in the sample. Two pant styles were still swimming on our fit model on the second fitting. None of the corrections were made.

Her excuse is that she “hasn’t had time to oversee her assistants”. She puts everything on her assistants, yells at them in our fittings for not overseeing the sewers or making correct adjustments ….but aren’t we paying for her to do our patterns or at least oversee most of the process? And she always has an excuse as to why she needs an extra week or more time. So, we have paid her $3,000.00 so far, and now she has invoiced us for another $1000.00 for pattern corrections.

I have had countless conversations with this woman regarding our dissatisfaction with her work, but she keeps saying that we are paying for her time and that pattern makers are underpaid etc. I don’t feel we should have to pay another $1000.00 when there were no visible changes in the fit of our garments from one fitting to the next, but I also want to be fair and do the right thing. If you have any advice, it would be greatly appreciated.


~sigh~
Before I start, I spoke with MC by phone for a few more details. Regarding this email, let’s deal with things in order, first her hourly. You live in California in a high rent district. $85 an hour for someone with 35 years experience isn’t out of line. Typical rates across the country are $35 (midwest) to $100 (NY). I charge $50 (25+yrs exp). A friend charges $60 but she lives in a relatively low rent area. Patternworks Inc in LA has a sterling reputation and I think their prices are competitive for that market. By phone, I could tell you were not trying to be a budget buster and that you were willing to pay competitive rates for productive results.

By phone, we discussed the fit meetings of which three elements were outstanding.

  1. There was no difference in samples between fittings.
  2. She berates her staff in your presence. Ouch.
  3. She runs up time on the clock, charging hourly.

About differences between samples and having fit meetings. Fit meetings can be exciting; it’s the first time you get to see your idea on a living breathing body so your excitement can run away with you. This is business. You must get out a sheet of paper and take notes, one sheet per style (this is in the book). Bring a polaroid or digital camera to take photos for later comparison. The pattern must be in the room for examination; bring your own tape measure. Make written notes of changes you want. The pattern maker should be taking notes too. Get copies of them! Make sure your notes match. If need be, make copies of yours and have them initial them. Use the Input Control Form on page 80 of my book. There are boxes to check for approval or progress. Everyone should initial these so you know you’re in agreement as to how things should proceed. It sounds like you may have been a victim of hangar fix, a pattern correction strategy of questionable integrity.

In a fit meeting, don’t be afraid to approach the pattern. If you don’t like the length of something, check the pattern and the garment. Make note of these measures. Ditto for girth changes. This way you’ll have a point of comparison in subsequent fittings. If you wanted the waist reduced by an inch and a comparison to the second sample is the same, you shouldn’t pay for pattern corrections or the sample -unless this is a minor nuance, they admit the oversight and had rendered other changes in addition to this one. Don’t be intimidated. If I have a customer check a pattern in my presence, I’m not offended. If anything, I’m reassured. If they’re doing it wrong, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity for a teaching moment. If they’re doing it really wrong, I may giggle and want to hug them but I couldn’t be more pleased that you’re taking an interest in my work and trying to understand it (a big compliment). The more you know about how patterns work, the more confidence I’m going to have in your ability to communicate changes by phone. No good pattern maker should be upset if you try to get up close and personal with the pattern. It is your property.

Berating staff in your presence. For this reason alone, you can’t do business with this person anymore. Your work is being used as a vehicle to abuse other people. Worse, you don’t know what she’s saying about you to her staff behind your back. Everything that’s wrong, she’ll blame on you, that you’re being unreasonable (and maybe you are but that’s beside the point; it’d be unprofessional of her to say so). Ever wonder why people won’t look you in the eye or glare at you? How is her staff going to care about doing your work well if she’s told them you’re an awful customer? This is very unprofessional and very sad. It breaks my heart. My first reaction is to want to open my fat mouth and register disapproval while it’s happening but I usually just leave and never come back.

A word to designers with pattern makers on staff. Be wary, monitor the ambiance in your work room. Some designers think their pattern makers are just great (!) but they’re monsters behind your back. For what it’s worth, the tyrants aren’t all that great at pattern work either although they’re good at saying others are to blame for poor results (hint). If a pattern maker is good, they don’t need to berate people to get them to perform. I cannot abide a petty tyrant. Besides, the power is in the inverse. Just as a pattern maker can destroy the career of a designer who gets on the wrong side of them, so can a sample maker make life very difficult for a pattern maker. You bake them cookies and babysit their kids, you don’t yell at them. If their work is lacking, a pattern maker should train or help them to resolve problems. If it can’t be sewn, it’s rarely the sample makers fault -once all other avenues have been exhausted.

The issue of running up the clock can be a case of “he said, she said” but it doesn’t take three hours to fit five garments. That’s ludicrous. When I’ve had people do that to me, I start tracking time and make it obvious. Usually that stops it. As I explained by phone, it’s not so much that she personally spends all that time on you, it’s how efficacious the time is being spent by one of her employees. Regardless of who’s involved and who’s time you’re paying for, it shouldn’t be wasted. She is responsible for all time charged no matter who’s doing the work.

About charges in general. In the old days, pattern makers used to charge by the pattern (prices listed pg 70). Some still do it like this. For changes beyond what was contracted, fees are charged hourly but it’s rarely inordinate. These days, with so many people getting into the business without grounding, more are charging hourly to cover talk time. The sum of which remains that I have a hard time believing it cost $4,000 for five samples and patterns that don’t work. As a point of comparison, Patternworks once mentioned they charged $7,000 -a hefty amount- but it was for 45 styles which ended up being quite a bargain. The most complicated design I can think of off hand, say one of those parrot jackets, might be $1,000 all told but you’re doing basic women’s sportswear, not a multi-piece lined leather jacket with a high degree of difficulty and demand of execution.

The sad fact remains, there are people out there who know there’s tons of people hot on becoming designers and they don’t have a problem taking advantage of you. I regret that. All I can do is hope people will make use of the resources I provide to counteract it.

One last thing…MC mentions this pattern maker’s nails are always immaculately polished and her hair is impeccably coiffed and styled. That’s usually a bad sign. Pattern makers are engineers and fit the profile. Don’t hire someone who fits the image of what you want your customer to be like or who mirrors your personal grooming habits. It usually ends poorly.

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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