It’s difficult to hire qualified pattern makers because there are no established standards that will assist a company owner in making a good choice. In this section, I’ll explain some generic characteristics of qualified candidates to assist you in making a good decision.

First of all, what is pattern making? Pattern making is a simplistic term that describes a very complicated job function. Pattern making is complex engineering and not the creative art that most people think. Pattern makers are the technical backbone to the manufacturing process and have more control than any other single person to produce a quality outcome.

For example; let’s assume you want to build your dream home. You develop some basic sketches of the layout and features you’d like and take this information to an architect. The architect incorporates your wish list into blueprints and designs features of structural integrity, such as foundations, wiring, safety, strength, durability, as well as keeping your costs in line. Once the architect has completed the technical specifications, the building contractor would use the blueprints to build your home.

This is exactly what a pattern maker does, only they design for sewn products rather than buildings. This is why a good pattern maker must have a solid background in designing for manufacture. But unlike architects and contractors, pattern makers do not need a license, which is unfortunate. In other words, there is nothing to prevent anyone from calling themselves a pattern maker and posing a danger to themselves or their employers. Keeping this in mind, this is the best way to select a candidate:

Education
Education doesn’t necessarily mean formal schooling, although it is strongly preferred (some learned on the job from Masters). For those who attended college, you need to see transcripts because (again unfortunately) degrees mean very little. I know a production engineer who only has 3 credit hours of pattern making. A good candidate will have a minimum of:

  • 24 credit hours in pattern work.
  • 3 hours of grading.
  • 3 hours of draping.
  • 3 hours in textile sciences.
  • 6 hours of design development.
  • 6 hours of production sewing methods.
  • 3 hours of production planning and scheduling.
  • 3 hours of advanced mathematics.

Their GPA is also important because the best candidates are perfectionists by nature. Don’t hire someone according to your standards. Hire someone according to the standards of their professional peers.

Now if you noticed, CAD (computer aided drafting) skills were omitted, because these skills don’t necessarily make a good pattern maker. It’s better to hire someone with more pattern skills, because it’s easier to teach computer skills to a pattern maker, than it is to teach pattern making to a computer expert. Computers won’t ‘make’ patterns any more than a ruler and pencil will jump up and make patterns. Both are simply tools used in the pattern making process.

The most important concept of all is sewing skills. When screening over the phone, ask if they know how to sew. If they can’t sew or admit they sew poorly, don’t waste your time interviewing them. I don’t care what they say in defense of themselves. Pattern makers must have excellent sewing skills. Never hire a pattern maker who cannot sew. Patterns are tools. How can someone design tools, if they don’t know how to use them?

Still, the best way to evaluate a candidate is by a work try out because good pattern makers can perform poorly in interviews because their skills are technical, not social. Relying on an interview alone is strongly discouraged as most company owners hire people they like, but nice people are not necessarily the nicest candidates. Always remember that pattern makers tend to be the sort of people who proofread dictionaries for spelling, grammar and diction. In other words, they’re not the sort you would invite to cocktail parties, but you do want perfection in production engineering.

Work try out
Have the candidate work on site, drafting a pattern from a sketch you provide. You need to give them a block pattern from which to start. You can tell a lot about their professionalism by the questions they should ask before drafting the try-out. For example:
What are the seam allowances used here? What kind of fabric is it, how wide is it? Is the fabric a “one-way” or have a “nap”? What size are the buttons, zipper length etc.?

They should bring their tools (we are taught that having professional tools is an indicator of professionalism and we can’t get work without them). After the trial draft is made, you need to check the pattern. Evaluate the pattern using industry standards of accepted professionalism. These are things to look for:

Color coding

  • Black Ink: Shell/Self pieces.
  • Blue Ink: Linings.
  • Red Ink: Interfacing and or canvas.
  • Green/Purple Ink: Contrast/Trims, (interchangeable).

Labeling

  • Piece name
  • Grainline and or Nap line.
  • Quantity to cut of that piece
  • Size
  • Style number

Pattern markings

  • Fronts have single notches; double notches on backs.
  • Dart ends are punched and/or circled.
  • Tucks and gathers are notched, starting and ending.
  • Pockets are traced to show correct placement.

These are the most basic guidelines and standards used in industry. These are minimal. So, even if you like your interviewee, don’t hire them if they don’t pass this basic test.

By the way, pattern marking and labeling is designed to speed up production because even if the person cutting and sewing is illiterate or a non-English speaker, they can still ‘read’ it by color and markings.

Once the pattern has been made, you need to check it by laying all seams against each other and matching up the notches etc. I’d strongly recommend cutting and sewing a sample in order to test the quality of the pattern. The sample maker should keep copious notes as to errors or inconsistencies. The primary concern is accuracy, and how easily and quickly it can be sewn. The pattern maker needs to draft the style according to the sewing methods and equipment you use.

Once the item is sewn, it should be fitted and tested. It should fit similarly to the block you gave them to generate the style.

It’s only after you’ve followed all of these steps that you can tell whether the pattern maker is any good. Just interviewing someone is not enough, you need proof.
Making a balanced decision

Now all that said, don’t expect a pattern to be production ready on the first try. It’s just not possible. Hiring a pattern maker is a lot like hiring a big league baseball pitcher. A team owner hires a pitcher with the best record of strikeouts, but it would be unreasonable to expect a 100% strike-out average. Likewise, it’s an impossible expectation to get the pattern perfect on the very first try. A good pattern maker just gets there faster and has a higher “strike-out” average.

Another consideration. You could get lucky and find an industry dropout. In other words, you could find an ex-pattern maker who left industry several years before and is looking for a low stress re-entry into the business. These candidates are good resources because although their skills may be rusty, they have solid technical backgrounds and are strongly motivated to return to their primary career choice.

Responsibilities
It’s a tough job. For those who don’t know, a pattern maker’s responsibility is to design a pattern that can be sewn perfectly, with all pieces matching (perfectly) as well as perfectly matched fabric motif placement, exact embellishment placement, and horizontal and vertical stripes.

Perfection is not negotiable because you must assume that people in the process of using the pattern (marker makers, graders, cutters, sewers etc) will each make a tiny mistake. If each person makes a tiny mistake of 1/32”, the total error grows to be 1/8” or more, which is enough to seriously compromise the product quality. Were each person to make a mistake of 1/16”, the error would grow to ¼” which means the design has been radically redefined in process. This means cuffs, collars, pockets and stripes will be crooked or not fit at all.

Even more challenging, the pattern must be designed so it can be sewn correctly by people who do not speak English, and do not know how to sew at all. If a garment takes too long to sew, the pattern maker needs to modify the style to make the most efficient use of everyone’s time.

If sewing errors are a problem, it usually means the pattern pieces don’t fit together precisely or it’s too difficult to execute correctly. It’s the pattern maker’s responsibility to produce a pattern that can be sewn error free.

Lastly, the pattern maker is responsible for training sewing supervisors and line seamstresses on an as-needed basis. Training services are to upgrade quality production sewing methods as well as increasing the aggregate knowledge, enabling a manufacturer to increase the range and type of products they are able to produce. For this reason, a pattern maker must have excellent sewing skills.

By now, you may have a better understanding of what the job requires. The work is incredibly demanding. It requires long hours of intense concentration and solitary work with little interaction with peers and co-workers. By definition, the most successful candidates are loners and introverts. In conclusion, never lose sight of the fact that you are hiring a technician-mechanic type of person rather than Perky-Patty or Suzy-Sunshine.

How to hire a free-lance pattern maker
Many small companies can’t afford a full-time pattern maker, so hiring a free-lancer is the solution. This is easier, now that you know the accepted standards. There are two primary options which are hiring independents, or using the services of a pattern design company.

Independents. Just as many DEs are home based, there are many independent pattern makers who work from home. Since there can be problems with the services of independents, I’ll explain some things to watch out for and how to manage your relationships with them.

Interview someone who is sufficiently committed to have a business license, a business phone listing and can be located in the yellow pages under pattern making or sewing contractors. Following this tip will eliminate the worst of amateurs who call themselves pattern makers, but really don’t know anything about the trade.

This is very important if you want to keep your design ideas secret. An amateur has nothing to lose by stealing your designs. Since they don’t have a legal business, they can steal your ideas with little remorse, since many in this category are aspiring DEs themselves.

The simplest way to determine their professionalism are the previously listed qualifications. The biggest tip-offs to a fake, are lack of professional tools, pattern paper (it looks like manila folder paper), pattern hooks and a bunny punch. Even a first-year design-school pattern maker will use all of these items.

Using pattern services. As a DE, it’s very important to understand that using the services of a professional pattern maker, are just like any other professional service. You’ll need to make an appointment during regular business hours. If you work at another job full-time, this may be difficult, so try to be flexible. Some DEs have assumed that a pattern maker is on call at all hours and will drop everything at a moment’s notice. Likewise, don’t expect the pattern maker to pick up or deliver work. If you are unable to deliver or retrieve the work, make shipping arrangements.

You probably won’t need to meet them personally, because you can screen them based on the industry standards over the phone. When you call, they should be able to give you basic pricing based on the information you provide. If you decide to hire them, then you’d send all the needed materials (sketch sheet, fabric swatches, etc) in order for the work to proceed.

Usually your work will not be scheduled until the material arrives, because it’s common for DEs to request time allotments in scheduling, but then fail to follow through. So don’t be upset if a service won’t guarantee your time slot. As soon as your details arrive, the pattern maker will call you with any questions and provide answers regarding turnaround times.

Be clear about the services you need because they can vary. You can have just the pattern made, or you can have a ‘dummy’ or mock up made too. My personal choice is to provide a dummy because the pattern is ‘proven’. If the pattern is problematic, I’ll recut it before sending it off to the client.

The re-cutting of the problematic pattern is free to the customer. So I’d recommend you request, and pay, the nominal fee to have a dummy made. This will save you money since you won’t need to pay someone else to dummy it up; and then return the pattern if it’s problematic.

The cost difference is minimal because a dummy is a very rough unfinished garment. The only important thing is that the notches and pieces fit together; it’s immaterial whether it’s lined, hemmed and topstitched. Dummies sew up quickly and I can’t think of very many that would take over an hour or two to sew (speaking as an outerwear and sportcoat pattern maker).

Be sure to ask about fabric costs because this can vary. I think it’s unreasonable for a service to charge a high mark-up on fabrics. You can always send some yardage with your sketch and indicate that it’s to be used for the dummy, if pricing seems unusually high.

One way to save yourself some money is to keep a copy of your patterns at the service. Many services will not keep a copy of your styles in-house unless you request this. Keeping copies at the service means you can communicate needed changes over the phone. Otherwise, you’ll need to re-ship your pattern back to the service for the work to proceed. If you decide to keep copies at the pattern service, you have the right to request their return at any time as they are your property. It’s doubtful the copies will be surrendered if you owe money for completed work.

Like grading services, expect to pay before the pattern is shipped to you. Once you receive the pattern and examine the dummy (if provided), you’d fit it and proceed with any needed changes. If the changes are slight, such as lengthening a sleeve, the charges will be minimal. You can save a lot of money by being very specific in communicating your required design affects. If you haven’t specified the number of inches you’d like in sleeve length, it’s unreasonable to assume it will be done exactly as you imagined. Like anything else, you’ll only get what you ask for.

Complete design changes are handled differently. If a DE decides to make structural changes like adding or deleting a yoke, sleeve or silhouette, you can expect to pay as though it were a new pattern altogether. This is why it’s important to review your designs carefully and select your best choices before having any patterns rendered.

What pattern makers charge
Most industry pattern makers charge according to a set fee schedule and or hourly rates. As with grading, the industry standard pricing is fairly consistent across the US. I’ve found minimal pricing variations between companies. The costs of services are based on the type of work, the degree of difficulty, the time needed to generate the pattern, and materials costs.

Materials are usually not included in the pattern’s price because the paper usage can vary quite a bit. Pattern paper can be expensive; a roll of paper can weigh between 100 and 200 lbs. so expect to pay for your usage based on a per foot basis. Also expect to pay for the pattern hooks used to hang and store the pattern if you do not provide hooks.

Most charges are based on the type of product design. In other words, pants and shorts are priced in one category, dresses and blouses in another. The reason why shorts and pants, blouses and dresses are charged at the same rate is because the only difference is length. Garment length is usually inconsequential from a drafting perspective because it’s nothing to extend the draft longer and a pattern maker can rarely justify charging more for it. Length is important for fabric purchases, but not drafting since it’s about the same amount of work.

Pricing will always vary. It depends on the degree of difficulty and design detail. Also, don’t assume that a “really simple” design is “really simple” to draft. Here are some common base prices used in the industry:

  • Pants and shorts (basic) $80-$100
  • Blouses and dresses $100-$150
  • Jackets (unlined) $125-$175
  • Vests (unlined) $100-$125
  • Tailored blazers/sportcoats (lined) $225-$325

For lined garments (other than sportcoats which are priced for linings already), you can expect to pay about $25 more. Also, don’t let the price of lining determine whether you decide to line a garment. Linings cost more in fabrics, but cost less than using facings labor-wise. Likewise, lined garments command a higher price due to increased quality.

Many patterns have fixed prices, which are based on the base price and additional labor charges to render the pattern from the base pattern. In other words, it would be unreasonable to think that a 5-pocket pant (blue jeans etc) would only cost $80 to $100. A jeans pattern can be considerably more depending on the experience of the pattern maker. This is why you should consider hiring based on overall estimates, because specialists can cost a lot less than a generic service.

For example, one DE wanted a jeans pattern and interviewed two services. One service only charged $25 per hour in labor. A specialized service quoted an hourly rate of $50. So the DE in this example, went with the lower hourly cost service. In the end, his jeans pattern cost $600. Had he used the services of the specialist, the price would have been $220 for the same pattern. That’s why you should compare total costs rather than hourly rates in selecting a service. Use the service with the lowest price (cost/time/quality) overall.

[addendum]
It seems more typical today that pattern makers charge by the hour and rates vary by location. A highly qualified (20 years of experience or more) pattern maker in Los Angeles or New York will cost about $75 an hour. Experienced professionals in second or third tier cities will charge $35-$60 an hour.

In addition, there are charges for re-works which you do have to pay for most of the time. This is why you should learn some standards of production pattern making. If the pattern is incorrect, the pattern service should fix it at no additional cost to you. If you don’t know the standards, you won’t know who is to blame for problems.

Using a pattern service
Pattern houses and free-lancers are fairly similar in their practices and pricing. The only difference is that a pattern house or a pattern service is a larger business that may have additional services you need. These services can provide a wider variety of services and may be an excellent option for DEs looking for a one stop-shopping place.

Pattern Houses can be similar to contract sewing operations in that they focus on assisting companies in one specific area, namely pre-production. They will do everything you need to get to market. Then after market, they will grade the pattern. Many houses will also cut and sew prototypes, samples and make markers as well as producing small production lots.

Pattern services are advantageous because of their pattern libraries. This is a great option for new companies who don’t have blocks. Since these companies have huge inventories of styles in their library inventories, they are most likely to have an existing style to please you.

Even if you get a library copy of an existing pattern, you can expect to pay about the same price or just a bit less. The reason is that the development of blocks is an expensive investment and the recoup on the process is lengthy. The trade-off for a customer, is that the blocks should be perfect as far as construction issues are concerned. Fit will always vary according to the market of the manufacturer.

Return to the Table of Contents or read the next entry.

20 comments

    • Kathleen Fasanella

      Even if you were making something as simple as square cloth napkins, you’d need a pattern maker because the patternmaker makes the marker. Production can’t cut/sew without a marker. If you don’t know what a marker is, this book you’re reading an excerpt from, tells you all about it. It will even tell you how to make your own markers (pp 114-120). Break a leg!
      Btw, maybe you could buy some tees pre-made? There are nice ones on the market and very likely cost less than what it’d cost you to have them made. Economies of scale and all that. 

  1. Paige says:

    Thank you! This was a huge eye-opener and tremendously helpful. I am not in the industry and simply want to hire someone to replicate the patterns of some of my favorite-fitting clothes, which I’ve worn til they are threadbare and torn. I cannot sew and simply detest shopping! I had no clue how to go about finding someone to even provide a quote. This article really helps me understand! (After reading the many hours of study alone — not even including experience — people get, I also don’t feel so bad about my failed amateur attempts to sew clothes in the past!) Great, super helpful article. I’ll definitely explore more on your site. :) Many thanks!

  2. Sumera says:

    Hi, great article! i have some questions and i hope i get a reply :)
    I am trying to start an apparel business as well and currently looking for a pattern maker thats not too expensive. I am looking to just get the patterns made here and take it to an underdeveloped country and do rest of the production there. is this possible? Would i need anything else besides a pattern and grading to take overseas?? also, any pattern makers you guys would recommend in NYC/NJ area? thx!

    • Kathleen Fasanella

      If cost is your driver, then why not farm that out to someone in the “underdeveloped country”? We don’t provide referrals on the blog itself (just the forum) but I don’t know of any competent pattern makers in NY/NJ who are inexpensive.

  3. Otieno Levian ALoo says:

    I am upcoming pattern maker in kenya . this article has helped me realize my worth. currently I am looking for established pattern makers to team up with.or mentor me.

  4. Emily says:

    Thank you for the info on Pattern Makers and the sort. My concern is trying to determine the cost of having a finished/profitable dress made for retail.
    I need a lot of dresses made for my future online store and it appears I have to go through so much just to find out if this would be a profitable business.

    • Danielle says:

      There’s a lot of factors that go into whether just a single style ( one of your dresses) will be profitable, and even more factors when you consider the profitability of your business as a whole. There’s a lot of things to consider, beyond of the production of the garments, such as marketability, brand positioning, price point, business structure ( b2b, b2c ) etc and it can definitely take time to determine whether or not it’s possible. And also, a lot of designers have to go through some trial and error to figure that out and may have to change their business model completely in order for it to work out.

    • Kathleen Fasanella

      Danielle has provided good feedback. In addition, I ask you this: if this whole process were easy and inexpensive, then it would inundated with competition (more so than it already is) and then it’d really be hard to make a dent. So, as frustrating as it is and as much work as it is, be glad because it means you stand a chance. A lot of people just bail once they see it’s not so simple.

      Your other option is to buy product -in this case, you have a much better idea of acquiring inventory- which is only one part of your start up costs.

  5. Ellen Abshire says:

    Hi there – we are hoping to create a pattern for our Krewe costume, which is a halter bodice cut w/ princess seams. Ideally, we’d pay someone to create the pattern (we have some good examples) and then make it multi-sized. I made a pattern for myself but am not good at making it fit other body types. Suggestions?

  6. Kristin Tyvoll says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for this interesting article.
    One question: If one has made its own pattern, and would like to copy/produce them ad mass (simply as pattern pieces), how should one go about then? Any companies that produce such patterns out of cheap fabric?

    Thanks in advance,
    BR, Kristin

  7. Kirsten Halik says:

    Hi! Thank you so much for these posts, as I am just starting the process of developing my line of active wear. I have no experience in the industry, so I’m shooting in the dark here with all the steps. Your website has been a life saver! I do have a few questions though… I live in the LA area, and found multiple posts on craigslist for pattern makers and full production houses. I reached out and received responses from a few of them. I will be setting up meetings for next week. I have my own sketches drafted in Adobe Illustrator (I am an architect and have a strong design background) and I have a homemade prototype I sewed myself. In these interviews, do I leave my drawings with them even if I haven’t decided to hire them? I worry about my designs being stolen. I know you mentioned amateurs can steal designs, but can these craigslist postings be trusted? The only other place I know of to find pattern makers is Maker’s Row, but is that worth the money to join?

    Thank you so much for all your content, I hope to hear back from you!

Leave a Reply

You have to agree to the comment policy.