Review: Garment Construction Guide (industrial sewing instructions)

corset_sample_sewing_instructionToday I want to tell you about a great resource I have for industrial sewing. First I have to back up to explain that unbeknownst to me, the schematics and illustrations I used in Industrial sewing instructions came from the book I’m going to tell you about now. That’s not where I got them from for that post, it was an isolated reference I found on the web -without attribution. That is so annoying. If you recall, I’d mentioned that industrial sewing instructions are brief if not sometimes enigmatic but they are out there if you look hard enough.Today’s book is called Garment Construction Guide which is published by Union Special. This title is only available via mail order from their technical training center. I’ll give you purchasing information at close.

At right is one sample garment from the 400-500 page manual. I don’t know how many pages it has, they’re not all numbered. Provided at right is a sample garment (called a corset but closer to a girdle); the following pages provide a list of sewing operation, the sequences and descriptions, along with the machine and seam types needed to sew the item. The manual is described as having documentation for over 200 garments -and I believe it.

sewing_instruction_mens_coat1smPerhaps a better example is this men’s overcoat. First a sketch is provided with the seam schematics. Following the illustration are 3 pages of sewing instructions, amounting to a total of 95 separate sewing steps. Some of you had asked in Industrial sewing instructions pt. 2 or maybe it was part 3, about whether or how pressing was documented in the process. These instructions include pressing. I copied a portion of these instructions, steps 1-15 which you can see here. I realize the chart appears to be a mish-mash of numbers you suspect are difficult to make sense of but it only takes a bit of diligence; the manual includes a pictorial index up front of all stitch/seam classes. After awhile, you easily remember them. The easiest one to remember is SSa-1 which was also in my book (again, under industrial sewing) because this is the most common seam there is, two pieces joined along one edge with a single needle machine.

Another handy element of the charts -other than a clear explanation in plain English of the seam- is a column that lists an estimate of how many of each given seam can be done in an hour. This is invaluable. By way of example is this chart below (same as the one I linked to above but this is smaller):

In the above chart, you can see that 70 step 2’s can be done in an hour but only 10 of step 3 and 4. This gives you an idea of how you want to set up your sewing operation. If you’re a small company, you would only need one operator doing step 2 (you’d need 2 for step 1) but you would need 7 stitchers to keep up with 2 (and 9 etc). Or not, it depends on which operation you would use to set the pace. Point is, it is obvious that there will be a bottleneck behind step 2 so you would have to plan where and how to store work in progress so it would be accessible but not in the way and also, not get dirty or mussed (mussing equals money spent on pressing that could have been avoided). Keep in mind that the pieces per hour figure is an estimate. Your mileage will vary.

You could also use the charts to develop piece rate because each step is clearly defined. Not only that but the model machine required is also listed.

Speaking of, an important caveat. This manual is in two parts. The first part (closer to 1/3 of the book, 170 pgs or so) is old style. The new section is different, much more modern looking if that sort of thing matters to you. I hope it doesn’t. Either way the information is good. Actually, I would have to say the older section is better because the sewing instructions are more descriptive.

Caveat dispensed with, some of the machine number references are dated and you probably don’t want to use those machines since we have much better machines today. The charts are still useful because you only need to flip forward in the manual to find which machine model numbers are referenced in the modern section to do whatever operation -again, the SSa-1 I mentioned before.

Now will this be a bit of work to put together sewing specs for your product? Absolutely. I think it is a good idea to do one for yourself (assuming you buy this manual since most of the work will already be done for you) so you can see how much time it takes. If you take to the work, that is great. If not, then you won’t begrudge hiring someone to do it for you. That is not me by the way. The other thing is that the model references refer to Union Special machines. If you don’t have any of those and want to know which machine is a substitute, Google (or our forum) is your friend.

The types of garments listed are myriad, 200 is a lot of styles. Categories range from men’s, women’s,  children’s, bags, pajamas, knits… you name it. The modern section even lists specifications for given products by brand, for example, Calvin Klein. There are a wide variety of different styles and variations between styles. By this I mean I found 5 different examples of specifications for jeans. Since I only scanned those pages quickly, I didn’t see any difference between them but I’m sure there is or they wouldn’t have bothered to create the variations.

So hopefully you’ll avail yourself to this resource. I will certainly mention it the next time someone asked me about how to cost their sewing because this is what I would use as a guide if it wasn’t something I knew off hand.

How to order (please don’t ask if there is another way to do it, there is not):

Send a $50 check or money order (price includes postage) to:
Technical Training Center
ATTN: Doug Kanies
One Union Special Plaza,
Huntley, IL 60142

You may have to call (847.669.4237) or email (dkaniesATunionspecialDOTcom) to ask the cost of shipping to Canada or where ever else you may be.  It wouldn’t hurt to call or email Doug to mention you’ve sent an order by mail. That’s what I did. I called and he said it would be a week or so, that they were out of them. I followed up with an email to provide my shipping address (makes it easier to ship with copy and paste) and he wrote me back and said it would be out later that day.

They have other material available too. Select the publication price guide for more information.

Two last things. Union Special was also the subject of an earlier post when I mentioned their vintage book Manual of Work Garment Manufacture which you could get courtesy of the Library of Congress at no cost (download it if you like) . It is a very charming book.

The last thing is to see the forum thread on this post, you will find additional material there, namely larger images with the complete list of operations for the overcoat and the corset (bra and panties too).

Oh I almost forgot, I will be gone all next week so I will be tardy with any requests or needs you may have. If you want to get together with me when I’m in Denver, let me know. We have tentatively arranged to meet on Tuesday for dinner.

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  1. Eric H says:

    Wow, that illustration is awesome. Is this cross-linked under Autie Porn?

    The nice part about one of these breakdowns is that once it is done one time, you only have to leave it alone or perhaps tweak around the edges. You can use it as a template for similar projects. It lends itself to project management (Work Breakdown Structure or WBS) and can be shoved into a Gantt chart.

  2. Laura James says:

    I’m a home sewer with no interest in ever joining the garment industry in any way, but I keep an eye on your blog because you know so much and share it in such an interesting way. The men’s overcoat schematics illustration is fascinating: it reminds me of the specs my husband, and architect, has to do when putting a job out to bid.

  3. Dawn says:

    The Sequence of Operations chart shown above is very similar to what my sewing contractor uses to make my line. The first time we sat down in a meeting and mapped all this out was really eye-opening. Because of Kathleen’s book, I had come prepared with a tentative operations list–then the lead production manager took my list and whipped it right into shape: re-ordered steps and added steps I over looked (or just sort of took for granted). Every little action had to be listed out. All this to say I think this is a highly useful thing for planning your production. Even if you’re not going to be directly involved in the sewing, it helps to understand every step that must be done. And, production people are really good at suggesting steps that might be combined or eliminated if you can be flexible that way.

  4. Add to the list (for us) that when the doorbell rings, you jump up from whatever machine you are working at, and leave the machine unattended for however long it takes to humor the customer or discuss how they would like you to reconstruct the jacket that you made them 10 years ago (damn that quality) because they lost weight. Talk about hard to figure costs! I would hire a dedicated store person, but they would twiddle their thumbs when it’s not I basically just guess high on my costs…and hope for the best. But, got to admit for mass production of the few products we out-source, the above chart would be super helpful.

  5. Judy Gross says:

    I’m a little late in reading this post, but this is how I price an item I will put in production, on one page I list every sewing step in the process and the time it takes to sew each step (similar to how many per hr) Also listed is how long the cutting takes, next page is how much fabric, every piece of webbing, button, elastic, zipper, velcro etc – how many inches and how many pieces per item (6 button, 3 inches of velcro X6 etc), then there is a page for the cost of each item, then it all goes into a total that includes overhead, packaging, shipping, and markup.

    Some times I will guestimate the sewing of a particular seam, sometimes we sit down and sew a few samples and clock the time.

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