Pet Peeve: Cutters and Mixed Markers

This is something that’s bugged me for a long time and I don’t have a ready solution for it but I thought I’d bring it up in the event it will help you avoid problems with a cutting service. This is yet another of my pet peeves and it has to do with cutting services who make a big fuss over mixed markers. Mixed markers are how I describe a marker that has more than one style in it, maybe you call it something else. Maybe you’ve had this experience or you might in the future but this is the heads up on old-think cutting services stuck in tired old ways of doing business -in my opinion of course. If you think I’m wrong, fine. Tell me all about it but one way or another, I think it needs to change.

Typically when you have something cut, you trot over to the cutting service or contractor who’s doing it, with your markers and fabrics or you have them shipped or whatever and you provide the cutting service with the marker, cutter’s must (to double check the marker) and a cut order plan. The cut order plan details the number of plies (layers) of each fabric per colorway (usually cut in one batch), the location of any splice marks (see fig 4.12, pg 119 of the guide) and whether it’s a stepped spread or not and if it is, the design of it as well as the affected colorways. [A stepped spread means that a length of goods doesn’t run the entire length of the marker so it falls short of the full length, a common situation. You may need a stepped spread based on the number of sizes ordered]. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about with reference to markers and planning a marker based on orders received, review the entire chapter on making markers and cut order planning in the book, pgs 114-120 because it’s so involved I couldn’t even begin to explain that here.

Anyway, the way things used to be done almost exclusively, was that there was only one style per marker. In other words, you’d need one marker for each style. Now, in the heady days of vast domestic manufacturing in huge lots, this worked just fine. Today, it’s another story. These days you have smaller companies running smaller lots and they want to combine more than one style into one marker (a mixed marker). Personally, I don’t see a problem with this. In my opinion, this is more efficient. If you’re using the same fabrics across styles and particularly if the pieces are small, I don’t see why these can’t all be thrown into one marker assuming you can get the order quantities to balance out. However, some old-think cutting services will throw a blooming fit if you do this and this bugs me to no end!


For example, let’s assume you make infant wear or swim suits. Those pieces are really small. A spread of one style can end up being just a yard or so long and that’s for three or four sizes. Now, since you have to have an allowance of 2″ for each end of each lay -and splice mark-, that can end up being a lot of waste. In my opinion, it makes more sense to throw in more than one style (again, assuming you can get the order quantities to balance with little difference either way) into this spread to reduce your wasted lay ends (minimally). A lot of companies will do this in house if they’re doing their own cutting and sewing but if you’re using a cutting service, you’re going to have to ask in advance. You don’t want to have your goods spread and then have the cutter throw a fit. Like the cutter I saw throwing a hissy fit last week. He was practically apoplectic and way out of bounds in relation to the issues at hand.

This is the cutter’s deal as far as I can tell and it all boils down to sorting, a very very simple operation. This is not brain surgery but simple sorting folks. When somebody cuts for you, they cut all the stuff , they sort it and they bundle it. This means they put all of the stacks of smalls together, the stacks of mediums etc based on size and tie them into a package, wrap it, laminate it or whatever to keep the pieces together. Now, if it’s only one style, they don’t have to think. They can numbly match all the “S”s, “M”s and not have to think about it. However, if you’re cutting more than one style in the marker, the sorting job can’t be done as mindlessly as before. A multi style marker (mixed marker) requires that they first separate all of the pieces belonging to each style first, before they start matching up sizes per style to bundle them. In my opinion, this is not a big deal. So you have to use some processing power, big deal. It doesn’t take much longer. If anything, I don’t see why the cutter doesn’t just add a surcharge for the extra sorting and bundling operation but no, they don’t price things that way. Previously, they’d priced sorting and bundling in with cutting as one operation. Sorting and bundling stacks cost-wise is basically a throw away because it’s so minimal and hard to charge for because the processing is so simple and it takes very little time in relation to the size of the cut. This literally means sliding stacks of pieces per size, stacking them and tieing them together. No big deal. With a mixed marker though -to reiterate- they have to sort per style first before they match up sizes. In my opinion, this is not a big deal but you may find that your cutter will throw the biggest fit. I swear that the man I saw last week looked one jot away from throwing himself to the floor to pummel it with his fists and all the vigor and fury a spoiled preschooler could muster and he looked just as mature. He turned bright red, like he was holding his breath and preparing to squall -like an infant. Really! Okay, so maybe I exaggerate a little. Still, it was quite a sight. And this wasn’t the first time either although this time I had witnesses to commiserate with and to compare notes. My companion thought it was just as silly and a huge waste of time.

In other words, I think mixed markers are a great solution for small spreads and small quantities but don’t assume your cutter agrees. Be sure that putting more than one style into a marker is okay with them before you have the marker made. I think it’s only fair to pay a surcharge to cover extra sorting time and you might offer to pay one -quick like- if somebody starts turning red and stops breathing in readiness to howl with outrage but the surcharge should be very minimal. It might take ten minutes longer than before so whatever that is worth. I am just amazed at the degree of over reaction to this idea; it’s way out of proportion. Some people just can’t tolerate changing their work practices at all. But then again, maybe I’m missing something. Still, there’s no reason to throw a fit over it when simple discussion will suffice.

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12 comments

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I was actually wondering about this- mixed markers, I didn’t know the name as I didn’t know they existed outside my logic. I did however hear of “bundling fees”. Nobody I ever talked to likes them, isn’t that part of the price? I thought when asking to price a garment, they get to factor in all those little steps. I don’t really need a break down, am I wrong? If anything I’d see them as hidden fees.

    Another question I have in regards to fees is about fabric cutting fees- from suppliers. As in, you’re purchasing 100yds of fabric and there’s a $15-20 cutting fee. I understand if you buy small quantities, but after a certain amount it just feels like another one of those no one will play with me things.

    Oh, and is it common to charge for swatches? I don’t mean high end fabrics. I got a sample about a third of a yard long and 60″ wide sample, plus a color card, and all pertinent info when I requested a swatch from another company.
    All I need is two swatches and this company tries to sell me their entire catalog for $15. Why the discrepancies between companies?

    Thank you.

    Thank you.

  2. Trish says:

    I am a fan of mixed markers. I think they can be fabulous for utilization of textiles…. but I can imagine the cutter’s take on this, LOL.

    By the way, I could not make it to Las Cruces tonight. I hope your talk went well. I wish I could have made it!!!

  3. Mike C says:

    Another question I have in regards to fees is about fabric cutting fees- from suppliers. As in, you’re purchasing 100yds of fabric and there’s a $15-20 cutting fee. I understand if you buy small quantities, but after a certain amount it just feels like another one of those no one will play with me things.

    Surcharges for small orders are common. 100yds would often be considered a small order size.

    Oh, and is it common to charge for swatches? I don’t mean high end fabrics. I got a sample about a third of a yard long and 60″ wide sample, plus a color card, and all pertinent info when I requested a swatch from another company.
    All I need is two swatches and this company tries to sell me their entire catalog for $15. Why the discrepancies between companies?

    I wouldn’t call it common, but its not rare either.

  4. Babette says:

    As I understand it, cutters charge (are paid) according to their time. If each style is laid up and cut seperately, they get paid more because it takes longer (and yes it also wastes more fabric). Mixed markers cut down their opportunity to charge. I expect that’s what they don’t like.

    I don’t know about anywhere else, but mixed markers is the way this stuff is taught in Australia nowdays. No one manufacturing on shore is doing large enough runs of anything to cut any other way. Most DEs are also making multiple use of the same fabric in their collections so as to improve their ordering ability with the textile wholesalers so it makes sense on multiple fronts.

  5. C says:

    Mixed markers are a must to increase utilization for smaller runs.

    The sorting process can be made easier if the cutter is using a CAD based cutting machine that has the ability to label or mark each cut piece as its cutting. Newer cutting machines even have the ability to burn bar codes on cut pieces as they’re cutting. This of course only works for single layering if you want every piece identified.

  6. Andy Chang says:

    I had been in this business for over 13 years and have never heard of a cutting chrage for fabric swatch. How would these fabric mill expect to conduct business if they don’t provide fabric swatch for designers to review and use in their fashion line?

    Every year I send out no less than 100 swatch book to my customers for review so they can see what other people are using for a specific line. In addition my customers will also provide me with direction each season as to what they want to see and I will prepare swatches for them to review.

    Also, in reference to mixed markers, I think that is a great way to do things. It’s much more cost effective. A lot of designers don’t understand the production aspect of the business, They only want what looks good but many times overlook the minimum quantity issues. If different styles can share a certain fabric, that can help reduce cost dramatically. However, that is provided that the mixed markers are properly logged on the pattern so there are no mix up. And provided that the people cutting the lot have properly marked the bundle so there would be no mix up.

    Much of the issues can be solved using a professional CAD software for spreading such as Lectra.

  7. Kathleen says:

    It’s funny that you mention this Andy

    Much of the issues can be solved using a professional CAD software for spreading such as Lectra.

    because the marker in question was made via CAD, specifically a Lectra system.

  8. Iris says:

    I am just starting up a small company and my idea was to design 3 groups of 5 items each. I found a contractor who quoted me prices for pattern making, grading & marking, and sample making. Now that I have most of the pattern making done, he now introduces the cost of cutting ($85 per item). My initial plan was to carry no inventory – I planned to have one sample of every item in every size. I was then going to do trunk shows and take orders. This huge cutting charge is going to kill me. Any suggestions for a cutting service willing to do very small quantities?

  9. we used to joke about making wash cloths from the fall out many years ago when making terry cloth bath robes. I say “joked” because we tried to convince the company to do just that.
    About the only time I mixed styles in the past was the mixing of a top and its related bottom.
    Nowadays (at LION anyway), we will mix sizes, calling them “combo markers”, but not styles, with one exception- “aluminized” apparel (protective gear). The fabric is so expensive and so narrow it is difficult getting a good yield so sometimes I will insert pieces from other styles such as collars, pockets or gussets to fill in the fall out.

  10. Toni Earl says:

    Hi Kathleen,
    I realize this thread is years old. Thought I’d add my two cents anyway. I started working in the trade in the mid-80s. My first job was for a vertically integrated franchise retailer – core business was canvas bags – so bag markers included all bag styles to maximize fabric yield (sailor duffles, bucket bags, small & medium duffles, shoppers, aprons, wallets, beer slings, etc.). I also did marker-making for small sewing house catering to D-Es. We did “mixed markers” often, since we had to deal with dye lot fabric – the coordinated sportswear separates were wholesaled to boutique retailers – so a blouse style & its coordinating skirt needed to be single dye lot for each boutique – yet fabric yield had to be best possible with that constraint. Orders were very small, of course. Very challenging. You solve the problems you’re given the best way you can.

    • Kathleen Fasanella

      I consider it a service when people comment on older topics since they then float to the top. So, thanks.

      We just did a mixed marker here for apparel manufacturing boot camp. 3 different styles in 3 sizes and 3 colorways with a total of 30 plies. It went pretty well but we had the Soabar for shade marking to simplify things. I can see how it would be more challenging without the tools and competencies. The only snag was the trainer for the piece work ticket program I bought. He thought it was odd that all of my bundles amounted to exactly 10 units. It wasn’t accidental, stacking the deck is a good strategy if it works out.

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