Mindreading: a fitting lament of good, cheap and fast.

same_dress_different_sizes_smThere are many occasions in which I don’t publish a post because I can’t think of a title to reflect it. As this is one such post, your titling suggestions are appreciated.

So -I’m speaking to a caller this morning. She’s upset because the pattern makers she’s hired cannot fit a child’s size 6 dress to meet her expectations.  She also said something to the effect that it seemed that the pattern makers expected her to find a child fit model to put the dresses on, fit them and then get back to the pattern maker with any needed changes -and she said “As if .  What do they think I’m paying them for?” She said that the pattern makers were out of line because she didn’t have a size 6 child to fit it on and that it was unreasonable for them to expect her to advertise, interview and hire a fit model and she sure didn’t have the time.

Being in the throes of task avoidance, I gently explained that fit is subjective; it is largely in the eye of the beholder and pattern makers cannot guess what a client has in mind. I described to her, the image you see at right.  Pictured are two celebrities wearing the very same dress to very different effect (larger version). A pattern maker cannot read someone’s mind to know the fit a client has imagined.

If you have similar expectations, there are at least two blocks to getting what you want.

First, there is no such thing as a standard size in apparel. For car tires, computer memory slots and battery compartments, sure. But not clothes.

Second, fit is subjective. One person’s idea of good fit is an anathema to another -case in point, the image above right.  Fitting specifications for car tires, computer memory slots and battery compartments, are not subjective because over or under sizing the area would create product failure.

Were I to wave my magic wand and miraculously graft into everyone’s mind the components of [what I think is] good fit, it would remain an impossibility for a pattern maker to cut a pattern to one’s expectations because people -unlike cars, memory chips and batteries- are not standard sizes. No, people stubbornly persist in being born a variety of sizes and shapes and once born and mature, persist in being thinner or heavier, or shorter or taller than other people their age.

Now, as to expecting a pattern maker to do fittings on live bodies for a customer -this is also unlikely unless one gets very very lucky. Namely, a pattern maker happens to have a body on hand that is the exact size and shape a customer has in mind. Most of the time, one does not. So, for a pattern maker to fit on a live body, they would have to advertise, interview and hire a fit model -which is precisely what the customer would have to do. This particular customer then contradicted herself by saying that she had a lot of dress forms of various sizes (implied that pattern makers should too) but that dress forms were too wide and flat as compared to people’s bodies and that things never looked the same on forms as in real life.

I understand that a customer may have limited time but there are some things you must find the time to do. If you absolutely cannot find the time, you must have the money to buy someone else’s time to do it for you -and most people don’t have that either. For a pattern maker to fit on a live body for you, they will have to charge you for the time they spend advertising, interviewing and measuring prospects. There is more potential for less than efficient use of expense money because there is a risk that the pattern maker will select a body a customer doesn’t like so the process begins anew.

As an aside, the axiom of product engineering you see at right bears reminding. You can pick any two but not three. If you want good and fast, it won’t be cheap. If you want cheap and fast, it won’t be good. If you want good and cheap, it won’t be fast. The latter is most important for us because most smaller companies don’t have a lot of money but they also want nice stuff. If that’s the case, it won’t be fast. It will never be fast. The only way you can make it fast-er is to pick up some of the load yourself -so if you don’t have the time… it’s going to be difficult to find anyone to help you because don’t forget, you also don’t have much money and we can’t read your mind to know what you think is good.

Class dismissed.


  1. Jay Arbetman says:

    And this illustrates why so many people who succeed in other fields fall on their face trying to make apparel. First, why would the pattern maker hire a fit model? Did you request one? Are you ready to pay for one? What kind of instructions did you give the pattern maker (in writing)?

  2. Gini says:

    I can’t improve on your title but lament the posts you haven’t published because of what you perceive as a lack of a good opener. You never waste a word making so many easily understood good points. Plus the photos speak the thousand words.

  3. Bente says:

    Kathleen; you are the most patient person in the World! Why doesn’t this “caller” go do something else! Something less complicated maybe..

  4. Sahara says:

    This is what happens when “The Designer In Your Head” is not “The Designer You Are”. The former, thinks of a shop where the pattern maker additionally has fit models and sewers sitting around (or who double as the sewers), advises on EVERYTHING, and serves wine; like a cross between a gas station and a spa.

    The unfortunate part of “Good, fast, and cheap”, is when a client realizes that “The Designer They Are” is one with limited capital and resources, they become cheap and willing to settle for not good – as long as it isn’t noticed, of course.

  5. Quincunx says:

    Some variant of this is a “Designers must know: responsibility for fit” since the topic of who determines wearing ease and fit and such keeps recurring.

    As for the dress, it reminds me of the time I received my sister’s (tailored cut, but stretch material) pants in the laundry and absent-mindedly wore them, then when she pointed out they weren’t mine, added I could keep them as I’d “stretched them all out of shape”. They still seemed fine on my curvy body, but she put them on her non-curvy body and I could see the problems.

  6. Claudia says:


    Why aren’t avatars, 3D models, used for fitting work and pattern making? Expense? It really doesn’t work? Does anyone have any experience with this technology?

  7. Bente says:

    If the avatars moves and talks and can tell you how it feels to put it on, move in it etc. then it would be great, I guess :)

  8. Susan Wright says:

    I saw this years ago applied to computer software development. I applied then, it certainly applies to what you are talking about here, and it probably applies universally.

  9. Kathleen says:

    Claudia: Expense is part of it. If I got the technology, I’d have to charge $10 more per hour and it doesn’t seem fair (to me) that my customers who don’t need it (most of them), would have to pay for it. I think it’s great for those who find it useful but it’s not something I ever plan to add mostly because I don’t want that customer. That the customer (such that I described in this post) has this problem is indicative of many other related problems -expectations being one- and it is a never ending tutorial to bring them up to speed. It is no fun for me to recite the abcs, that’s what the book, blog and forum are for. That other providers don’t mind working with people who need more hand holding (and charge them accordingly) is great too, everybody is happy.

    But anyway, even with the technology, the customer would still have to provide fit and sizing parameters to develop the avatar and this particular customer didn’t have it and moreover, expected others to provide it, at presumably, no cost to her.

  10. Sarah_H. says:

    Good post. I take my hat off to your patience, Kathleen. It surprises me that this designer had not yet realized that she should want to be the one to say what the fit should be.

    Having worked some in Children’s wear, I will say it is fun trying to fit on a child fit model. Not only are they little squirmey monkeys, but you never have the same one longer than a year. By the next year, they have grown out of the sample size and you have to find a new child with the right dimensions.

  11. Pam says:

    LOL – This post defines SO many of my “prospective clients”: I want you to do the job of 5 people for the price of half, I want you to do everything, I want it to be perfect the first time around, I want it yesterday, don’t bore my with details, meet all unfeasible demands, make me millions… and MAKE IT WORK!! Needless to say, they don’t make the cut – pun intended.

    These are the same folks that tend to start their pitch with:” I HAVE *THIS* VISION…”
    (Psst… so do I: “You are a pain in the butt and I am not going to work with you”)

    I amuse myself thinking about what psychological disorder could possibly explain whatever delusion these people may have that compels them to believe that their expectations are appropiate, rational and will lead to business success…

    Miss K, another wonderful post, as always!! I do enjoy reading your articles so so much!!

  12. May V. says:

    I work in a full-scale garments manufacturing company (we produce garments for many popular brand names in the US, Europe and Asia) and I know from experience that fitting is such a controversial issue between customers and manufacturers.

    We get complaints such as the size L fits them like a M, that one style was supposed to be a “loose fit” but turned out to be “regular fit”, or that the length of a size L is not enough for the wearer.

    Most of the time these are not caused by mistakes in pattern making but of customers’ perceptions of how the garments will fit and therefore the instructions that go into their tech pack.

    If we produce a hundred thousand pieces of size L, there will be a hundred thousand people of different body types who will wear the product and therefore the fit will not be the same.

    I agree with Kathleen – pattern makers are not mind readers. I think the title of this post is most appropriate . :-)

    I look forward to your next blog.

  13. martin says:

    I used to keep a version of “good, cheap, fast” on my bulletin board at work! And I LOVE this essay… things I’ve had to say to folks for years, including just the other day. I’m am glad I have some time now to catch up on your blog. Now, I will go read some more…..

  14. Cheryl says:

    I LOVE your site. LOVE your book even though my MAIN area of sewing is alterations. I have picked up GREAT tips from your book, THANK YOU. I do some custom sewing but it’s EXPENSIVE and uncommon in my area of the country. I receive phone inquiries here and there for manufacturing of clothing. I WASTE my time trying to EXPLAIN to so-called ‘designers’ exactly WHAT is INVOLVED in SEWING. What are they teaching these ‘designers’ in college???? They want to hire ME for approximately $6-$8 an hour to do THEIR job…. That is a NEGATIVE. I charge $26 an hour to sew and I have MANY customers GLAD to pay me for my expertise. Is this just a GLAMOUR issue for the so-called ‘DESIGNERS’???? They have NO IDEA how an article of clothing is CONSTRUCTED. They have NO IDEA how to FIT an item of clothing. I must get back to altering about a dozen PROM GOWNS due for pick-up in the next few days. :)

  15. Thi says:

    Helpful tip K. For everyone.
    I was a pattern maker, so I know it’s a painful job.
    People want to pay for a pattern making of a jacket with a price thats even cheaper than to buy a pc in mass production, made from china ! But it’s to be perfect to be used in mass production. In old days, it took days, not to say weeks to create a good pattern for production.
    ( not to say for sewing. one designer once told me proudly ” id never pay my sewer under $10/ hr ” so I was thinking, he must had paid her $10.50 maybe .
    No wonder, every one is running to be a nail tech :)

  16. Corey says:

    Is there a way to utilize computer generated modeling to show the size and fit, and not need a live model at all to show the different ways something can fit?

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