Sample cutting and sewing costs

From my mail, Ann writes:

I recently started using a professional pattern and sample service and the cost seems a little high to me. Was I out of line to request an itemize list of expenses? For one of my jackets (I had 3), the cutting was listed at 4 hours. That seems like a lot to me. The sewing was another 3 hours. Does that sound right? They are charging me $35 an hour so my sample cost is about $250. The reason I’m asking is because it didn’t take me this long to cut out this jacket when I made the practice garment.

For clarification, I asked Ann for more details about her jacket. It is a fully lined, knee length, double breasted pea coat. If the job was done well, $245 seems like a fair price. Here is how costs break down:

Typically, a lined coat pattern can take 8 hours to draft (the drafting costs weren’t mentioned). It is typical for cutting to take half that time and then sewing, if you have someone very experienced at it, can take two to three or maybe even 4 hours depending on the level of finishing (hand stitching, pressing) required.

There are several reasons that it can take longer to cut samples in a workroom than at home. The most obvious reason is that we don’t cut on folded fabric. Meaning, we don’t lay out each piece once on a double layer of fabric, cutting both pieces at the same time. This method is typically done in the home because few people have large enough tables to lay one layer of fabric down its full width. Accordingly, cutting on the fold can take half the time it would take in a shop.

There are several reasons practitioners wouldn’t cut on the fold. While the task can be called “cutting”, we are doing what amounts to a small production test which lowers your long term costs. We lay the pieces on the fabric as it will be done for larger quantities so best usage of the material is made. The customer needs an accurate figure of the amount of fabric used so the item can be costed correctly. To sum up, cutting double uses more fabric. If you use the cutting double figure for purchasing and costing, your material costs may be off, maybe as much as 15% or more -not an unreasonable estimate by any means because narrow widths are wasteful. [I’m curious what the percentage is. I think I will make a marker both ways and update this entry.]

The other thing customers often don’t understand is that cutting has a fairly high set up cost (time-wise) that remains static regardless of how many units are cut. By this I mean that the time needed to cut 100 (or 1000) identical jackets is not much more (percentage wise) than cutting one. As a crude example, it may take four hours to cut one sample but it is entirely possible that it would only take 5 hours to cut 100 of them. Meaning, your one sample cost $140 to cut but the cutting cost of each jacket in a production lot would be much less -about $1.75. The sample cutting cost is useful information because it can give you an idea of what a larger cut would cost so you can extrapolate a per unit cutting cost so you can figure product costing.

To play devil’s advocate, let’s say you wanted the sample cut double to save wage/time. Your cutting cost would be roughly half ($70) but you wouldn’t have a good figure for material usage; you could end up ordering more fabric than you need. If your fabric is $10 a yard and your utilization estimate (based on cutting double @ 2.5 yds ea) is 15% too high and you order fabric for 100 units, you’ve overspent on the order of $2,500 on fabric.  Comparing the latter $2,500 to the $70 “extra” you’d pay to have the sample cut as a single ply rather than double, paying the single ply cutting fee seems like a better investment.

To be continued…

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12 comments

  1. Kathleen says:

    I think there is a disconnect on the best way to get estimates. I can’t speak to your experience Rocio but this is mine.

    Typically, people will call me up and describe their product, usually it is either “super simple” or they have a great pattern already, made by either a tailor, a neighbor who sews wonderfully or even, a pattern made by the finest patternmaker to ever draw breath. While all of these things are possibly (but rarely) true, this isn’t helpful to develop an accurate estimate. The only way to get a ballpark estimate is to either show up with your stuff in hand or to ship it to whomever for inspection. The conflict I’ve seen is that no one wants to mail anything for a quote. Mailing seems to be the commitment point for the customer. After they’ve mailed something, they expect the work to proceed and don’t check back with respect to costs even tho they should. Even then, if you get back to the customer with a quote, they often minimize or forget it, hanging on to whatever figure they already had in mind. Said figure could be a quote someone else gave them, something someone else (a wholly separate party) said once or even, a figure they have in mind that they came up with themselves. [My favorite figure is $25 -a lot of people figure an ethical patternmaker can’t charge more than that since that is the price Vogue charges for store bought “couture” patterns.]

    As you also know Rocio, there are things one can’t plan for to include in an estimate. For example, not having fabric (or the right kind of fabric in the case of mock ups) arrive in a timely way. As you know, the customer’s job then has to be moved to the back burner and another customer’s job becomes the priority. The first customer’s job won’t be worked on (presuming the goods arrive in the meantime) until the second customer’s job is done. All of which represents significant delays. It also takes time to get up to speed on what one had been doing before; the lag amounting to additional and unanticipated costs.

    Then, there is the customer who adds on to the job, changes the scope of work midstream or even, calls you unannounced to ask a “simple question” that migrates from one issue to another and before you know it, you’ve spent 45 minutes or more consulting. That has to be added to invoice too. Yes, you can tell a customer that consults are an additional fee but many think their question is a minor issue and that you as the service provider, are obligated to explain it to them. [If it truly is a short fast question, it isn’t worth tracking and billing for so I understand and don’t mind at all.]

    I should also stress that these are *nice* people! None of them intend to take advantage of anyone etc etc. They just don’t know.

  2. JoAnne says:

    I can’t say enough how on point you are Kathleen, and how each time I read a new entry (or an old one as the sheer amount on information you have provided here is nearly infinite and still ever expanding) I learn something new.. so while I’m not contributing to this subject matter here, still… thought I’d leave my “kudos”.. much appreciate to you.

  3. Demetra says:

    I agree completely with your answer, Ann also did not mention if the fabric was a print that require matching or a specific fabric (velvet) that require more attention when cutting. I do enjoy reading the new and old articles, they are answering a lot of my questions.

  4. Kathleen,

    I have to admit that our approach to operating our business in general is LARGELY based on the standards and practices that the State of California requires as a condition to be licensed as an apparel manufacturer or sewing contractor…
    As much as I hate to pay for the burden of licensing (unlike most other states in the country) I have to admit that those same requirements act as a filter for the type of accounts we get

    Admittedly, we don’t issue sampling estimates unless we have a garment in front of us, so if someone is not prepared to send a garment for an itemized estimate then (in our view) they are not even considered a viable prospect
    We don’t use patterns without auditing first (with the exception of a couple of select service providers who work to high standards) and again, if someone doesn’t want to pay for a first time pattern audit (which is only to their benefit) then there is probably a lot more they’re not prepared to pay for…

  5. Mary says:

    What people who double cut at home also tend not to understand is that when a pattern is cut on folded fabric, it tends to go slightly off grain on the underside. Cutting open allows control of each individual edge of each piece.

    Thanks for your post on this Kathleen. I always learn so much from you!

  6. Will there be a time soon when computers can tell us whether one design is more economical than another? I know there are free bits of software like one from A9tec (I haven’t used it and don’t know much more) while open source free software is getting better every year. Meanwhile, A4 scanners can be had for free while A3 scanners might be affordable. So there should be some way of getting a bunch of two diamensional shapes scanned-in to a bit of software and being told the best way to lay them out on a roll of cloth. Or not. I don’t know.

    Just to explain myself, I’m interested in shoe uppers which have smaller shapes, so maybe this question isn’t so important to garments. Any feedback welcome.

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