On becoming a CAD pattern maker

This could be considered part two of On becoming a pattern maker. The difference is that the first entry focused on how to go about getting training while today’s entry discusses how to go about entering the business if you have some training and experience albeit not in the industry. By way of introduction is this email I received from someone I will call Kelly [parsed according to context]:

I am a draper/pattern maker with a background in creating custom patterns for the theater. My MFA training from [a reputable land grant college in a southern Atlantic state] specialized in draping, couture sewing techniques and clothing history. I have worked for over 10 years creating custom garments, including made to measurement patterns for private clients and theater productions. I have found that I love the pattern making side of the job and I am currently looking for a way to gain entry into the fashion industry as a way to expand the opportunities available to me. As I started a job search, I found that I am qualified for most jobs in every way except being trained on CAD (Gerber or Lectra) software. While I realize this is definitely a short coming, I strongly feel my years of experience in pattern making, fitting, and clothing construction make me a valid candidate for a career as a pattern maker.

Before I start, two comments (generally, not to this writer specifically):

  1. Some people don’t know this but I’m a pattern maker with 30+ years of experience. As such, a few things jump out at me as a barrier to employment in the traditional firm although ill advised designer entrepreneurs might consider these to be pluses.
  2. Reading this entry and all the links therein should take a week minimally but a month or more is optimal -if you’re serious. If you’re not serious and can’t commit to the investment of self education, this is not an ideal career option at this time because even if you get a job, your education will have merely begun.

As to the downsides of your background: First is that you have an advanced arts degree. Other than that pattern making is a trade, an applied science -contrary to what all outsiders think, the garment industry is very blue collar and proud of it. Generally speaking, however undeserved, artists have a reputation for being difficult to work with in that they don’t understand their role or duties in a commercial environment (I believe there are similar rivalries between commercial and fine artists). Costuming is extremely challenging but it is craft work (not a compliment in this context) as it involves making one-offs. Commercial work has a hard emphasis on reproducibility and precision, aka Standard Work (read it, don’t gloss over it and then also read this). It is not unusual for there to be what we can call “philosophical” differences between artists and tradesmen that present a formidable stumbling block toward even getting an interview.

I understand that you and the majority of my readers are lovely and not likely to be a pickle at all, so being a departure from that (and aside from the CAD discussion, a red  herring really) the key to standing out is realizing you really aren’t qualified but you could get there with a bit of preparation in production pattern making (in my book, blog posts, perhaps a class but also the tutorials). Focus on the common essentials; namely that you enjoy the work, probably have a knack for it and are willing to work hard to meet the barre because that is all that really matters. I have gotten any job I’ve ever applied for using these interviewing tips.

Kelly continues:

I have looked into the local design schools for training but have been told that those classes are only offered to degree seeking students.  I have also contacted both Gerber and Lectra, who both offer training in 2 week course but I have been advised that the skills need to be used daily to maintain the knowledge taught in the classes.  Considering the training is fairly expensive I am reluctant to pursue it without some sort of job prospect. I am curious as to if you have any advice you can offer someone with a strong background in manual pattern making, as to how to make the transition into computer pattern making?

This is very difficult to answer based on your career options which are:
1. Freelancing for smaller firms
2. Working for a smaller domestic manufacturer in house
3. Working for a firm that does all their product development in the US.

First a few blanket statements:
Many firms that have pattern makers on staff do not use CAD to make patterns. I don’t know what the stats are now but as recently as five years ago, only 15% of companies that had CAD, used CAD to make patterns (the industry is not very progressive, forget what you think you know about it). Most firms use CAD to grade patterns and make markers. By the way, only 15% of the industry even has CAD, a fact many CAD sellers are loathe to admit. Meaning, only 2% of potential employers will require you to know CAD but being that it is these firms that advertise most of the job postings (others go through channels), it is easy to get another idea. That said, given today’s competitive environment, knowing CAD can be a big plus. It makes you more marketable even to firms who don’t have it because not having someone on staff who knows it could be the stumbling block to its adoption. If you know CAD but not the desired flavor of the employer, it really isn’t as much of a problem as you would think. If you learned one program, you can learn another and everyone knows it.

Now, considering that only 2% of employers require CAD, you’re picking between Lectra and Gerber which on the face of it are fine choices. However, if you’re thinking of going freelance or working for a smaller firm, those may not be the best choice because neither program is appreciably small company friendly and they’re much more costly. They are the two elephants in the room certainly but neither program is as easy to learn nor as efficient as they should be. If you think you might go with a smaller firm or freelance, you might learn another CAD program (I love StyleCAD, PAD also gets high marks) instead but you have a range of options. I would urge you to exercise caution in selecting a program because some heavily promoted (read: easy to find based on keywords new entrants are likely to use) CAD programs are not veritable industry programs. Generally, if the marketing of a CAD program is that they’re good for fashion designers, seamstresses, boutique designers and small design companies, I would avoid them like the plague. Real industry programs market in terms of efficiency, marker yield reductions and a whole bunch of goobley-gook acronyms (aka “integration with PLM/PDM/ERP” etc) to say nothing of being able to write cut files that can be read by industry standard [Gerber/Lectra] cutters. Generally, if the cost is less than $5K, you don’t want it. Some people think the starter psuedo CAD programs are better than nothing to get started with but none of your service providers will be able to work with those files so I don’t see much to gain from it.

But I digress. Learn some kind of CAD system if you can -is interning an option? If you plan to work for a smaller firm or freelance, learn StyleCAD, PAD, Optitex or Tukatech. If you will buy software to freelance, StyleCAD and PAD cost the least if only because you don’t have to pay $1,500 a year in licensing fees. I do agree that it is easiest to keep learning fresh if you have ongoing duties using the software so you’re in a hard place if you’re learning it for an as yet unattained job and don’t plan to buy it yourself.

Another career option may be to get work as a technical designer. Tech designers need to have a strong understanding of fit, construction and know enough about patterns to be able to articulate the kinds of pattern changes that may be needed.  A technical designer needs to understand tech packs, grading, writing specifications and all that. A TD also needs solid computing competencies with software packages such as Excel, Word, Illustrator etc. Being a TD could be a sideways entry to the industry; it seems that far too many TDs these days don’t understand much about patterns. Anyway, a TD wouldn’t be expected to know CAD. There are a lot of posts on this site about tech pack components such as BOM and all that. There is quite a bit in my book too.

Speaking of,  I don’t know that this applies to this person who wrote me but I’m a pattern maker who gets a lot of emails like this. For whatever reason, many who write me have not read my book and I don’t understand how if one were really serious, that they wouldn’t be sufficiently curious to know what a 30 year pattern maker has written about how to run a manufacturing enterprise and a pattern maker’s role within it. That one lacks curiosity or doesn’t perceive the need to read the book or to make such a priority doesn’t instill confidence among practitioners which matters because most pattern makers get work through other pattern makers. As such, we tend to assess collegial competencies lest a designer come back to us with complaints because we lose face. Meaning, we need some kind of barometer in order to send customers to you because we all know people who claim to be pattern makers that don’t know much and it makes us all look bad. So, reading the book gives you baselines of expectations with customers, contractors, suppliers and peers.

And because this entry still doesn’t have enough links, here are more to explore as you have time.
All the pattern entries on this site
All the pattern grading entries on this site

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15 comments

  1. Sarah_H. says:

    I want to reinforce that costume or custom patternmaking and industrial pattern making are two very different animals. And my authority to say that is 30+ years in the garment industry and short stints sewing custom clothing and for the Dallas Ballet.

    If you truly want to work in the rag business, read all the articles Kathleen has kindly marked for you, and her book. It is Scripture for patternmakers.

  2. Kathleen Fasanella

    Speaking of, I get a lot of requests for pattern makers. We are terribly short handed lately. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t send someone away. If someone is a forum member, I send them there to find someone. If they’re not a member, there isn’t much I can do.

    On a related note, there is a job opening for a patternmaker/product support/marketing person in the Los Angeles area. I don’t have an ad, they are going through channels. Meaning, they expect me to weed responses for this position. I’m not making anything on this placement (nor do I for the other opportunities I post) but I have an ongoing relationship with this company.

    You don’t need to know CAD but you will have to learn it on the job. Some industry experience preferred obviously but they also know that younger people without as much experience offer advantages too.

    Frequent and ongoing travel meeting with customers (a sunny disposition is an asset) is required for this position so it may be better for someone who isn’t tied down yet. I was told that they are interested in taking on an intern first with the idea of making the hire permanent. Speaking of, “permanent hire” is not a misstatement. They are looking for someone who will commit to their company for a very long time. They are established and have never had a lay off. Let me know if interested.

  3. Karen Cook says:

    Thanks so much for this post! I’m excited to spend a month or so studying all the related information. For some reason I’m drawn to everything I can find about industrial pattern making. I’m too settled in my life to make a career change, but I do a lot of volunteer work with teenagers so maybe my excitement will rub off on them and I can let the younger generation know what kinds of opportunities may be out there for them.

  4. Dara says:

    Hey Kathleen, great post. Can I ask a question unrelated? A lot of the bigger companies around here expect you to also know Solid Works or some related flavor for industrial applications (not clothing). I do a fair amount of specialty design. Is that common to the industry as a whole, or just commercial? Patternmakers in this industry seem to really specialize. It’s used to run the Lectras around here as it interfaces really well with those machines. Just curious as the cut files are a lot cleaner and you did not mention it here.

  5. Eric H says:

    Dara

    I’m having a hard time following your … question? SolidWorks is not for apparel; you would be spending huge $$$ for a program that wouldn’t even really do everything that you needed.

  6. Dara says:

    Ah, I’ve seen it more in shoes and accessories part of the apparel vs. clothing. There’s a good shoe program that runs on Solid Works. Perhaps my response is too general here. A lot of what I do is not just clothing, but also the “other half that holds up textiles.”

  7. Dara says:

    Many of the lectra cutting machines are used for multiple purposes around here so a service may cut many things in the same day. There’s not the same focus you have. I like reading your perspective. :-)

  8. Kathleen says:

    A lot of the bigger companies around here expect you to also know SolidWorks or some related flavor for industrial applications (not clothing). Is that common to the industry as a whole, or just commercial?

    I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean by “the industry as a whole, or just commercial”. To my way of thinking, the industry (as a whole or even in part) is commercial.

    Patternmakers in this industry seem to really specialize.

    Call me crazy but I think this is a good thing. If I need back surgery, I want a back surgeon, not an ophthalmologist. In saying so I’m not denying that there are jobs that don’t require specialization such as value priced tees, tops and casual shorts (compared to general surgery for appendix removal, hernias etc) only that as products (surgeries) become more complex, a higher degree of specialization is increasingly important.

    It’s [SolidWorks] used to run the Lectras around here as it interfaces really well with those machines. Just curious as the cut files are a lot cleaner and you did not mention it here.

    Cut files are generated by the software, not the [lectra] hardware but it is great that Solidworks is dandy software. I would expect that the cut files of a major software provider to be clean, minimally following the astm guidelines or they wouldn’t be able to partner with preferred equipment vendors (readily). Obviously one needs drivers to bridge the software ->hardware etc etc.

  9. Brenna Rizzardi says:

    Kathleen,
    I was very interested to read this post because my own background is similar to the writer you call Kelly. I have been going over and over your book all summer and recently joined the forum. The blogs and the tutorials are priceless! One difference between the writer and me is that rather than looking for a job, I want to start manufacturing. When I first started studying the book, I thought I would need to hire someone for every required role. As I kept studying though, I realized that I can provide some of the services I need myself, although I must say I would not be making this giant leap without all the education I am receiving from all of you. I am so grateful.

    When I was training for my BFA in Theatre Production, my emphasis was referred to as costume design technology. My professor was a stickler for accuracy and so am I. We were required to spend hundreds of hours working on these pattern making skills, along with draping and tailoring. When I considered applying for grad school, she told me “You have done everything the grad students will do; get out there and get a job.” I understand that we are outsiders and have a lot to learn to transfer those skills to commercial work, but I also think if any group is qualified to do that, it would be us. Because of the “F” in the degree name, in my case anyway, does not indicate I am an artist by any stretch of the imagination. It is technical, hands on training. And yes, it is usually custom, but we also may be required to pattern choruses or other groups, so have some exposure to grading, albeit limited.

    So I guess I felt a little put down by your response to Kelly’s inquiry. I plan to continue studying your tutorials and taking in the valuable information you all so generously share, and to start small and see where I can go from here. At least I feel pretty sure once I am in manufacturing, people will stop saying “Oh, you’re a designer!” One can only hope.

  10. Kathleen Fasanella

    I regret you felt put down by my response to “Kelly” (who btw, didn’t even thank me!). I did say:

    Generally speaking, however undeserved, artists have a reputation for being difficult to work with in that they don’t understand their role or duties in a commercial environment… I understand that you and the majority of my readers are lovely and not likely to be a pickle at all,

    …would it have been better to say nothing of this at all and leave one wondering why they never got a call back?

    I don’t deny your course of study was rigorous and I’m pleased to know it was intensely hands on, directed by a diligent professor. With respect to whether you had the fortune to learn commercially valued skills, I would truly love to know to what extent this is true because I have yet to know of any program that does. I would happily send others to this school. I only know that in training professional pattern makers (not beginners) and even their professors, that few of those with less than 20 years experience, know basics like how to check a pattern or how to cut a line (away, always).

    I can’t say this is true of all people, I can only tell you of my own experience. The only pattern makers I have known who knew to cut lines away and how to check their pattern have worked in a factory. Those who don’t know these skills, never have. There seems to be a very clear line with factory work being the only difference that I can discern. Like I said, it is quite possible that your program is the unsung training leader; more people should know about it if it is true. F or no F, their students would get jobs once the word got out.

  11. Brina says:

    Brenna,

    My background is in theatrical costuming as well, although I did a lot work in professional shops in NYC. Some of the stitchers there worked in factories, so there was a lot of cross over of workers.

    Anyway I’ve also read Kathleen’s book and a lot of this site and used to belong to the forum. My 2 cents? If you have good trading in costuming, it’s not a huge leap to mass manufacturing–the main differences I see are, depending on what you are making and the quality, not having to worry about things being alterable, historically accurate or as arty as possible. Simplifying patterns so they are easier to cut and construct and for different bodies to wear. I think dealing with dressing choruses or rental costumes is a good entre here. If you’ve worked in a decent shop set up you’ve already used industrial sewing machines and iron and maybe even industrial cutting tables and other industrial equipment. You’re used to putting labels in things. If you’ve done wardrobe–and what well trained costume person hasn’t–then you know how people can treat garments and how to care for them–washed or dry cleaned, etc. If you’ve designed a show or really noticed the designs of others, you’re used to thinking about a group of garments/fabric work together as a visual whole–helpful if you design a collection. There’s probably more–so there’s a lot to draw on from costume training–and a lot to learn in manufacturing–but there’s a lot of crossover, IMHO.

  12. Brenna says:

    Kathleen,
    It’s okay; I’m a big girl. And things are definitely different in the two industries, which is why this site is GOLDEN. I have kept in touch with my professor (and mentor) and regret to tell you, she retired a few years after I graduated (1999). She told me that she could no longer get students who were willing to step up to the challenge of her standards and that ours was the last good class she had. There was entirely too much whining, which my classmates (there were only about 10 of us in the program) and I did not allow when we were there!
    Ciao!
    Brenna

  13. “Reading this entry and all the links therein should take a week minimally but a month or more is optimal – if you’re serious.” Kathleen, if pattern making students take that sentence to heart, we will no longer be short of qualified, efficient pattern makers.

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