On becoming a CAD pattern maker pt.2

The universe speaks! Follows is a redux of conversations I’ve had with colleagues over the past two days. Designers launching a line, it would be useful to follow along as it could reduce a lot of confusion and complexity you have experienced when sourcing services.

Context: my colleagues are old school pattern makers (mostly a good thing) who, while not opposed to CAD and may have even used it, don’t have a CAD system themselves. My position is that if a patternmaker is planning to stay in the game for at least the next 10 years, they need to get a CAD system.

Old school context: The range of pattern services to include pattern making, grading and marking, have always been separate functions and often, done by 3 different people. The patternmaker made patterns, a pattern grader graded the patterns for sizes and the marker maker made markers from the patterns for production to cut the fabric. Usually or often, patterns were made by hand with the grading and marking done by computer. Now, while each party may have used the same software and hardware for these different functions, they did not do each others jobs or only rarely and under duress. As in, somebody died.

This system worked pretty well in an age when manufacturing was better planned and organized. To a point, the pattern maker worked in the design phase, the grader at the tail end of the selling phase and the marker maker did his or her work after the fabric arrived -even when seated in the same room. So, while all of these people worked in the same department, their portion of the job was done on an completely different schedule. The pattern design of style 1001 may be finished in November but the grader wouldn’t get the job until May (after pre-sales) and the marker maker wouldn’t get the cutting ticket until mid June when the fabric had arrived for cutting.

But anyway, this is why an old school pattern maker will often not provide grading or marking services but send you off to somebody else who does. Not only are you asking for another job function that they don’t provide (not having a CAD system and the last two phases are heavily CAD dependent), service requests for grading and markers is also out of sync time wise. Of course these days things are kind of crazy. People often want something made, graded and marked at the same time because they have immediate orders to fill; all those preliminary steps were skipped. Oops! The schedule has compressed.

Long story short, the traditional pattern maker is correct in not needing CAD because they don’t grade or make markers. Many don’t do the latter two because we know too much and know that our counterparts are more skilled in these other functions than we are and we don’t want to step into a role we’re not comfortable with. With me so far?

Fast forward to today. There are a lot of new entrepreneurs who don’t understand how things are done -they’re new- so it strikes them as odd that a pattern service doesn’t provide the full gamut of services that a pattern department is traditionally expected to provide. We know why we don’t do it but prospective customers don’t. So, the trend moving forward is that pattern service providers will increasing step up to the plate to do it all. Or else.

Now, the context from my colleagues’ perspective is that they don’t want to get into grading and making markers because they know how hard it is and the tremendous increase of responsibilities. In some ways, it’s like going without a net or jumping without a back up parachute. Traditionally, graders would catch any errors we may have made and if we’re having to do it all, it’s a little scary. I should rephrase that. It is scary if you haven’t had to do it all on your own. But there is always a first time and yeah, moments of trepidation but you do learn and move forward with increasing competence and thus, confidence.

Designers can rightfully say that old school pattern makers need to get over it and learn something new but for many of us in the pattern side, it is enough to keep up with learning new processes, materials, styles, and throwing grading and marker making into the mix is pretty intimidating. Having to do grading and markers is impossible without a CAD system so that presents its own set of variables, the least of which can be expense. An industry CAD system with hardware costs in the neighborhood of $25,000.

Now this is what I think. I think that if a patternmaker is planning to stay in the game for at least the next 10 years, they need to get a CAD system. Customers these days want a soup to nuts solution.

So this is what my colleagues have told me when I said the above; they think they can continue to ship their patterns off to a grader for digitizing and grading, who will then send it along to Fulano’s marking service. To which I’ve responded, stand alone grading and marking services are dying out. Which sounds completely crazy because the remaining grading and marking services out there are very busy, having their best year ever. And they will remain busy, feeding from other patternmakers without CAD systems until the grading and marking service owner sells out or dies. Whoever takes over will want to be full service themselves so they’re not going to be able to take grading jobs from freelance pattern makers anymore. Which in turn will force pattern makers who want to stay in the business, to get CAD systems for themselves because they won’t have anyone to send the grading and marking to anymore.

So that’s where it is. If you plan to stay in the game, the time to budget and plan for the acquisition of a CAD system is now. Reason being, you’re going to need to pick the brains of pattern graders and marker makers until you feel reasonably competent. It’ll take time to transition. In my case, I still have a trainer who helps me with grading. I do most of the work but if I’m not sure about it or have issues, I send her the file for repairs and or suggestions. I also have files I wouldn’t dare grade that I send. The thing is, the people who know this stuff well aren’t getting any younger and it’s only a matter of time before they retire. If we don’t pick up the slack before they do, we’re just as guilty of losing institutional knowledge as those we often criticize.

If any of this describes you, your next question should be “what CAD system should I get?” Wars have been started under flimsier pretexts but we can talk about it if there is interest. For what it’s worth, I use StyleCAD and couldn’t be more delighted. I’d purchased another not to be named program previously and it was one of the worst financial decisions I’ve ever made.

If you have a program you like, it would be nice if you’d consider contributing to a follow up post should it come to that.

Related:
On becoming a CAD pattern maker
SOP: CAD pattern making processes
SOP: CAD pattern making processes pt.2
Resolutions: Will this be the year you get a CAD system?
Handmade or CAD patterns: which are better?
CAD software compatibility in marker making
Why pattern makers resist learning CAD

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