Technical designer qualifications

I’ve been having an email conversation with someone and it has reached such point that I am confused so I’m asking any of you to clarify things for me. The confusion I have is over what a technical designer does -or more importantly- what are their qualifications?

It had always been my understanding that a technical designer -a relatively new job classification by the way- was someone who spec’d out a product, essentially providing the function that designers used to do back when companies were smaller and everybody produced their own stuff in house. Before, technical designers weren’t needed in companies that did their own production because their products were all similar and used the same types of seaming and reproducible features so that level of detail wasn’t needed because seam classes were standardized in house. However, now the need for tech designers has come about due to the advent of big off-shore push manufacturers who are making a much broader range of products (across categories) with a large array of possible seam variations so it makes sense that a specialist would be needed to spec things out for the various contractors that they farm the stuff out to. Still, it was always my understanding that tech designers were advanced pattern makers who had years and years of experience. The issue being that the specs devised, are the instructions that the pattern makers use to develop the patterns. At least, this had always been my understanding.

Eric Shulte is a technical designer who had written a letter to the editor of Apparel Magazine back in 2000 and he got sufficient response from it that he wrote what he considered to be criteria for the qualifications of technical designers. Pattern makers with many years of experience would not have any problems meeting those standards particularly if they’d worked in smaller concerns where job duties overlap and one was exposed to a broad range of needed skills. For example, fitting. In smaller companies, pattern makers are the ones doing prototype fittings (and if they’re not, they should be!) so you get a lot of experience doing that. Eric also detailed some other skills of which none are untoward or unusual for someone with an established work history. These are specifically:

Basic Training for Technical Designers

  • Basic Computer Skills (as needed)
  • Program-Specific Skills (PDM, Excel or other)

Primary Objectives for Technical Designers

  • Facilitate (Not Complicate) the Garment Development Process
  • Focus on the Quality (Not Quantity) of Comments
  • Concentrate on Important Issues and Get Results
  • Facts About Factories: Understanding Your Manufacturing Partners
  • The Importance of Clear and Simple Specification Packages
  • How To Illustrate Construction Details or Changes
  • How To Illustrate Fit Details or Changes
  • How To Use Illustrations to Analyze Fit Details or Changes
  • Quality and Tolerance Standards for Style and/or Construction Details

Tolerance Standards for Graded Measurements

  • Pros and Cons of Various Measuring Methods
  • The Importance of Measuring Manuals or Diagrams to Convey Methods
  • The Difference Between Auditing and Evaluating
  • Understanding How Garment Measurements Are Related
  • Understanding How Garment Measurements Can Be Interpreted
  • Knowing When to Say “Go Back to Spec”
  • Knowing When to Revise a Spec
  • Making Sure That Garment Specs Are Truly Achievable
  • Writing and Prioritizing Evaluation Report Comments
  • Recognizing and Solving Basic Balance and Fit Problems

Advanced Training for Intermediate to Senior Technical Designers

  • Recognizing and Solving Advanced Fit Problems
  • Principles of Grading
  • Developing Company Fit Standards
  • Developing Company Grading Standards
  • Developing Company Measuring Standards
  • Developing Company Construction Standards
  • Developing Company Quality and Tolerance Standards
  • Developing Policies, Principles and Standards for Technical Design

Now, based on what he wrote, others have come behind him and developed classes and certificate programs for technical designers. The problem is (in my opinion) is that short thrift was made of the first requisite; that the candidate must already be an highly experienced pattern maker to start with. The qualifications Eric detailed were skills required above and beyond that primary one. Apparently however, certification programs lend students the impression that the skills these classes teach, are sufficient unto themselves to do the job (the gist of our email conversation being that this person is having a hard time getting a job as a tech designer) and I don’t agree they’re sufficient.

As far as I can tell, the technical designer should be a better pattern maker than the pattern maker making the pattern; it’s a supervisory position with respect to technical oversight. It’s not a managerial supervisory job but a technical one. Still, apparently some people have been able to get jobs in technical design without strong pattern making qualifications. In my personal experience, I worked with a technical designer once and it was a disaster and I’ll never do it again. This woman had no clue about coat making, yet her specs were going to tell me how to make the pattern? I don’t think so. Not if the company expected to remain solvent.

Have expectations of competency and skills reached such dilution that my expectations are out of whack? I can’t believe that is possible across the board. Basically,I can’t find a nice way to tell this person that they are not qualified for the job in spite of having earned a certificate because they don’t have the context, the foundation of skills -years of industrial pattern experience- upon which the duties of technical designing rest.

Getting a job as a tech designer basically means that one has to get a job with a large company -most of which will want a four year degree plus years of pattern experience- because a small company doesn’t need them. I mean, this candidate would conceivably be qualified at a little company but small companies don’t need technical designers. Rather, they need pattern makers who would also perform the job duties that a technical designer would provide in a larger company. However, if this candidate doesn’t have strong pattern skills to get a job making patterns, they’re out of luck (and actually, she doesn’t want a pattern making job). The way I see it is that there is a mis-match of her skills and demand in the market. A large company does need tech designers but she’s not qualified at that level. A small company -where she could possibly be qualified to get work- doesn’t need tech designers.

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57 comments

  1. Danielle says:

    I got an offer for a junior technical designer position. So that’s an entry level job for a fashion design student. *I wasn’t tested for patternmaking during the interviews* – I did a technical sketch test with garment measurements.

    Some of those topics were covered at my school although many of them were not. For my own schooling, I would have liked some more detail on creating good spec packages than I got, and I really could have used that section on creating company standards. Seems like it’s all useful stuff to know.

    Of course it’s important to be a great patternmaker – but those skills are undervalued by the people who hire technical designers – so it’s no wonder it wasn’t part of this curriculum. The impression I get is that the position of technical designer has very little cachet despite its importance and is perceived to be kind of administrative – details and numbers and whatnot – rather than a skilled position… though that was from the perspective of a design grad.

    …I didn’t take the job so I don’t have too much experience of the actual position to speak of.

  2. J C Sprowls says:

    Kathleen,

    I suspect there has been a turnaround in what the title represents – which yanks a rug out from under the experienced folks. This is frustrating to me, too…

    Several other industries are affected by this situation, as well. More college programs are “teaching up” to specific job titles or certificates (i.e. Business Analysis, Project Manager, etc); but, dilute the conventional (i.e. traditional) foundations skills. For example, it is possible to become a Business Consultant (at the wise age of 23…), yet have no operational, organizational, or managerial expertise.

    As you mention, work is being farmed out, so a technical designer is being used to liaise the garment specs with the production teams. It would be most advantageous for this role to be able to punt for (and represent) the operational (i.e. pattern or cutting) staff and management.

  3. katie says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    Excellent topic! With so many large companies producing offshore we (my other DE friend and I) have noticed an increase in job listings for this position. We were not sure what this job meant until we worked for one of these large companies doing a program for (the world’s largest retailer).

    I completely agree with you that this position requires a strong background in patternmaking (and possibly production sewing). You definitely have to know about constructing a garment.

    Recently a friend of mine took a position at a very large retailer as the Director of Technical Design. Not only did he have a degree from FIT in Design; he also spent 10 years as a designer, and another 10 years as a patternmaker. In his off time, we would go to Barneys and turn garments inside out to check construction techniques.

    There is no way you can do this job without a patternmaking background. Your garments will come back looking like the flats. Just like flats-very, very flat

  4. I agree. This is an excellent article, Kathleen. However, I’m afraid I will only add more confusion, because the “concept of technical design” has become a “buzzword” for so many aspects of the industry, used by those who don’t know very much about the technical aspects.

    As the organizer for the Boston fashion Industry Meetup, I meet a few members who work as technical designers. Almost all of them work for retail chains in product development departments, who produce lots of design “samenesses” overseas. None of them truly know pattern making, but blindly follow a bunch of “specs” that I have found to be pretty silly to accomplish anything worthwhile. Measurements and CAD will never get beautiful “shape”, which a really good pattern maker is able to do.

    I have watched the apparel industry change over six decades. In the 1940s & 1950s, pattern makers for manufacturers in the Boston area were called “designers”. The word “design” means “making a plan”, so the concept of “technical” was assumed. A “pattern”, to me, is an information system (IT, today)) for producing one or many same garment styles. Anyone who created were “sketchers”, and pretty meaningless. It was the fashion schools in New York in the 50s and 60s that began the tremendous confusion. The teachers were all dressmakers that taught pattern making from their knowledge of home patterns, not production on factory floors. To this day I have yet to see any fashion school teach what I call “production pattern making” or “pattern engineering”.

    As the manufacturers left the northeast and went south, and then overseas, the great apprenticeship system for learning production pattern making died. And then the schools, with teachers who didn’t know it, produced a wave of pattern makers that could only follow rules that were established before them. When I first went to work in New York fashion rooms in the 1950s, I was shocked that none knew anything about production in patterns or stitching. ( I started as a stitcher in factories as a teenager in the 1940s.)

    In one of my National Science Foundation grants on engineering design (1988), I drew a graphic I called the “Wall Between Design and Manufacturing”, to sshow the critical problems, and “fighting conflicts” between the socalled “fashion designers” in the New York showrooms and the production pattern makers at the manufacturers factory. I will try to put up this graphic on my blog; http://fashionsolutions.blogspot.com/

    How do we answer this problem of less and less expert knowledge on pattern making for production, and more and more confusion of terms for DEs, such as “technical design”. I don’t know. Maybe we need to talk more about the “future”? How can we change the way things are to something better? Kathleen is certainly helping with her book and this blog. Thanks.

    Shirley Willett

  5. Esther says:

    This topic is of great interest to me because I went from being a junior patternmaker to an advanced/intermediate Technical Designer within a few years of graduating. I am not saying this had anything to do with my skills, but rather a lack of understanding of upper management. Over the years, I have taught myself the skills needed. I read Eric Shulte’s article and agreed with everything he said.

    I wish there was more standardization for the way spec information is presented and handled. I have had to create my own methods to spec and send info to offshore manufacturers. The additional complication is a language barrier.

    I would be interested in a certification program, as long as there was some kind of continuing education program or collaboration among technical designers. I would love to be able to hash out problems and network solutions. Of course, in this day of proprietary information – I doubt this could happen.

  6. carissa says:

    I still have the lingering question of what is a designer and what does a designer do? There seem to be so many different ideas about this. It seems a designer will always be viewed as underworking- not being involved enough, or operating in many more capacities than a designer should. Perhaps this definition would help concrete our ideas of what a “technical designer”is? -Are they the same or totally different from one another? I’m still trying to wrap my brain around this very basic concept!!

  7. Kathleen says:

    I still have the lingering question of what is a designer and what does a designer do? There seem to be so many different ideas about this.

    very good question. times have changed, you have a very good point. somebody remind me to get on this topic. I think Zoe should do it :)

  8. valerie says:

    What am I?
    I have many years of sewing expierience, hand sewing skills sewing fur hats and coats. I have made the patterns myself for these items.
    I alter wedding gowns and formal wear.
    I can make a gown or any kind of clothing from a drawing with measurements. I can also sew other items from specs such as a wall tent,camp tent,luggage or a slipcover for a sofa. I can make a pattern for an airplane seat,sew and reupholster the whole thing.
    I am a small contracting business owner in Alaska.
    What would I be labeled as in the workforce?
    A pattern maker?
    A seamstress?
    Designer
    or technical designer?

  9. Carissa says:

    I’m kinda the same do-all type of seamstress, designer, artist, alterationist, visionary, pattern-maker-upper, and inventor of a really good bar-be-que meatloaf of which I have yet to write down the official recipe for and I asked Kathleen the same question the other day and she said “Sewn Products Manufacturer”– Hence the title of the book ;)

    BTW- the meatloaf is very moist and I like it a lot even though I generally don’t like meatloaf. Other non-meatloaf-eaters feel the same way.

    October 6th is coming and we will all be without excuse!

  10. nadine says:

    Very late to this discussion. Great posting on an important topic. I just wanted to wonder aloud on how anyone can get the kind of patternmaking experience that being a good technical designer requires. I graduated from FIT and had the great fortune to work in a couple of remaining accessories factories in the mid-90’s (all gone now) that did cut and sew work. Even though I don’t call myself a pattern maker, I am one of those types of DE’s who wear all the hats after being trained to design and manufacture as a result of my FIT background. Only one former classmate from my field (accessories design/ handbags etc.) that graduated with me has more than 5 – 8 years patternmaking experience – only 5 in a factory and 3 in a sample room. She’s a pattern genius but probably the last of her kind that I’ve seen.

    What I have observed is that those people who are often found in sample rooms of fashion companies doing patternmaking are new immigrants either asian, or russians who were formerly engineers in the soviet union and went to fashion school in the US. And they are excellent patternmakers but because they lack the english skills and experience with the US working style are not put into management track jobs or TD jobs and stay at the level of pattern or samplemakers with no career development. I don’t want to over generalize but this is what I see going on at least in NYC.

    I worked with a few freelance TD people in menswear mostly and they were brought in on a seasonal basis. Our small company hired them based on how many other companies garment spec books they had that our company could incorporate. Really terrible but not that unusual. They mainly just monitored the sample process, conducted fit sessions and corresponded with the overseas factories to fix certain issues. The big laugh was that I got a trip to Istanbul to fix a waistband problem with the factory that neither the TD or the factory could resolve after 6 weeks and many samples and I have zero garment design background. I sew a ton (accessories) but I was able to show the pattern correction required to remove some waistband puckering and everything came out great. I almost considered a career in TD after that! Unfortunately FIT in NYC considers it a certificate program (means take 4 classes, get a certificate) So I agree it is a mess but without any manufacturing environment left in the US for TD’s to be able to learn solid patternmaking skills, there will have to be a new criteria because otherwise no one will be able to fit the bill. Just my 2.5 cents on this topic.

  11. Ann says:

    I am a Senior Technical Designer / Production Manager. I come from a patternmaking / sewing background and because of my computer skills was able to transfer my skills from Patternmaking to Technical Design. I have managed the production/technical area for a 20 million dollar company sharing one assistant with the designer. Quite a feat yet I did it!!
    I am currently looking for a Senior Technical design position in NYC, which I don’t think I will have a problem finding as I have quite a few job interviews lined up.
    This is my frustration at my last job interview, was showing the VP my portfolio and she pointed out a pattern correction I had made and told me the correction was wrong!!! I have been patternmaking for years and if I knew a correction was wrong I would not have had it in my portfolio! Moreover I knew my correction was correct and I had done an obvious three step correction in one step! I wanted to jump up and show her the correction on the dress form, but I had to hold myself down, why educate her? This is just an interview and since she insists on being correct I would just have a argument on my hands… but it was downright frustrating to say the least!!! Sometimes it is appalling how someone with limited knowledge in patternmaking can insist she is correct.
    I let it pass…

  12. Dana says:

    I’m late to this very interesting dialogue about TD’s but felt the need to comment none the less. I agree with everyone that the position of TD is hard to understand at times and even harder to train for. I’ve worked in this area since the mid-80’s when the position was first being created. I studied design and patternmaking at FIT and more or less stumbled into this career a few years later.

    As the US industry has evolved, many companies have the need to develop product when they don’t have ownership of facilities for patternmaking, etc. Think about mail order companies like Lands’ End or vertical retailers like The Limited. More and more, US factories are disappearing. Schools have not kept up with that element of the industry, underestimating the wide variety of skills a TD needs. WWD is chock full of ads for TD jobs yet the skills are somehow just supposed to materialize.

    Yes a TD needs to be a patternmaker but most TD’s never have the pattern that was used to make the sample they are required to fit because the factory doesn’t want to send copies. We also need to keep in mind that there are a number of other skills that a good TD offers to the product development process. Consistancy of fit for example, if you look at the vendor structure for a company like Lands’ End in one category, say women’s casual pants, you may see 5-10 suppliers. The TD working on that category has to make sure that the ultimate customer can’t tell the pants from vendor A from vendor D. It’s a Lands’ End pant not a vendor D pant. It must fit the same body and have similar quality of construction.

    Another key TD function, is to be the bridge between design and a patternmaker in Sri Lanka. Designers have varying levels of technical knowledge and variable ability to communicate in technical language. One of my favorite work examples, in fitting a pair of jeans the designer I was working with said he wanted the back yoke to be a “sexier line”. I knew what he meant, could show him an example, and could communicate that to the factory. Try telling a Sri Lankan patternmaker, via fax, to “make the yoke sexier”.

    Yet another role I’m discovering is to help young designers communicate and sort through their ideas. I’m working with someone now who is starting a sleepwear line. She has zero background in design/patterns but still needs to have samples made. By working with me to get a starting point of specs/proportion/construction, she can get out of the gate faster. Her first course of action had been to buy a bunch of samples and try to have her factory patternmaker figure it out. Needless to say 6 months later, and countless samples, they were nowhere because she didn’t have the tools to communicate. I got involved, pulled together a tech pack, and her next set of samples was 80% there.

    The role of a TD is complicated, underappreciated, often poorly trained, yet it’s not going anywhere. It’s only growing in need. Working one-on-one with a good patternmaker is priceless but not always an option.

  13. Jenny says:

    I’m astounded that even inside the industry this job is underappreciated. I am a head TD at a company in LA with almost five years of experience and although I hate to admit this, I work like a dog to ensure that our production is production- worthy. We work with 30 or so vendors and all of our manufacturing is done overseas. I studied Patternmaking at FIT and this basic understanding is essential to the job but it is really only the beginning. I love the technical & often creative challenges I face every day but the skills I have were hard won and gained in something of a backward fashion learning from experience fitting garments day in and day out. I was lucky enough to work with a designer in a small company in NYC who gave me the opportunity to drape and develop flat patterns as well as travel to Europe for R&D. I am about to embark on a trip to China for the first time to see the manufacturing first hand. I feel very lucky to have had these experiences but I feel that the skills I have were hard won in an industry where the manufacturing we are overseeing is so far removed from our day to day work environment.

    I think one thing that has really helped me in this career path is, believe it or not, my liberal arts education. Communication & critical thinking is a tremedously undervalued skill in this position and I have yet to meet a strong TD who has only learned how to copy other peoples patterns which is what we are taught to do in school.

  14. ERIC says:

    Hello I’m a designer but I love patterns and sewing. I study my drafting book every day and sewing and technical design book often. I have a very deep desire to understand pattern making and sewing more. Not just following some instructions and not understand why I had to draft the pattern in a certain way. I have troubled my teachers with question after question and pooped them out. My dream is to become a great Tech designer, grader, pattern maker, tailor and whatever esle, so far as being in the back ground not so much a Designer. so please share with me some info on pattern drafting, technical design, and sewing. I’m looking for mainly pattern drafting and technical design jobs but won’t shy away for sewing. I would love to work under a experienced person. I have so much to learn and lots of questions. Thank you all this board has been great and I know that I’m very late on reading it sorry.

  15. Cathy says:

    I am trying to get a hold of measurement tolerances for sewing and construction to pass on to a technical designer. Can you help me find these standards. Thank you.

  16. Katy says:

    Hello, I am looking into the Fashion Technology Certification program at The Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. It seems to be a great program as tech. designer’s are in high demand. Looking for professional opinions…is this a good track to follow or a waste of my time?? Thank you!!
    Katy

  17. Miriam says:

    Katy,
    Please save your money and instead get an entry level job in the industry!
    I studied Fashion Design at Moore, the Fashion Dept, was dissapointing, I got all my training in the NYC fashion industry.
    Just my opinion, but if anything, take classes at FIT, not Moore, there is NO fashion industry in Philadelphia.
    -Miriam

  18. Yao says:

    I am a Senior Technical Designer by trade, and I specialized in Sweaters, cut and sewn knits right now, but I had experience on woven and denim too.

    Technical design is a job that included a lot of skills. Communication skills are absolutely imperative in Technical Design. However, you also have to understand and preferable knows how to make a pattern. You have to understand the production process, from development to actual production. You have to know how to sew and knit, or you can not be a good technical designer. Also, Technical designer is not only making the garment fit, technical designers must know how to make mass production viable products without compromising the aesthetic of the design and style. Therefore, knowing how to sew and knit is also imperative to the job. I think there are too many companies, that under appreciate their good technical designer, suffered immense lost of resources and time.

    A good technical designer should know:
    How to make a balanced pattern, and how to adjust the pattern according to the fitting.
    How to communicate the corrections to vendors, keep in mind that most of the people who work on the garments do not understand English, and the people who translate the comments do not necessary know how to sew or pattern.
    How to mark and spread goods. If there is any need to match anything, be it stripes, or plaid or print, it is necessary to know how to spread the goods. It is where the money is, most of our production people does not know how to make sense of this, hence, they don’t understand the true yield of the goods.
    How to sew a garment together, if you are not familiar with how to sewn a garment together, how are you suppose to tell the workers how to do it?
    How to correct a pattern either on paper, or knows how to sketch a correction with CAD.
    How to adjust the specs and shape due to fabrication, and fit.
    How to control and communicate the tension or thread, and stitching SPI. How to adjust the different kind of sewing thread as needed.
    How to communicate the correct terminology of embroidery, and adjustment.
    How to read a test report on the fusible/interfacing
    How to recommend fabric strength issue, seam strength, etc.
    How to control the torque of fabric. What is causing it.
    You must know about grading too. so you can ready the nested patterns and knows if pattern graders make any mistakes.
    and a lot more.

    In my humble opinion, a good technical designer needs about 3 to 5 years experiences to be able to master the skills of one product category as it takes about that long to see a complete cycle of the materials and styles.

    I hope this little post help you decided if the school is for you. Technical Design is a highly specialized field and it takes passion to be able to work on the garments day in and day out.

    Dilys

  19. Emma A says:

    Interesting topic!
    I work for a apparel company with production worldwide. We have a staff of pattern makers that also function as TD’s acc. to what you describe above. You mention it as a disaster to, as a pattern maker, work with an unexperienced TD (which I totaly understand!) but I wonder if it is not a common thing that the TD is also the pattern maker? Am I missing something? I would be very interested in continuing this discussion, maybe in the forum, if anyone has thoughts reg. designers, TD’s and pattern makers working w. large scale manufacturing :)

  20. Kathleen says:

    I wonder if it is not a common thing that the TD is also the pattern maker? Am I missing something?

    It is common that pattern makers provide the TD function. I think whether they do or don’t depends on the size of the company.

  21. Dilys says:

    To Emma,

    If the pattern maker serve as a TD, it is not a problem.

    My beef with the whole thing is, there are a lot of companies, at least the ones I had worked for in the past, there is no pattern makers involved. Everything is from blocks, and the TD do not develop the blocks to begin with. Most of these companies hired young, college grads, with no experiences of pattern making, do not know how to sew as technical design associates. If there is an experience TD or pattern maker to train these new entries, there won’t be as big of a problem. Because of the down sizing, and cost cutting, the new TDs are usually flying solo for the most part, and their only grasp of the idea is spec. So, there are so many TDs are spec driven, not fit driven. They do not understand the subtle difference specs with different fabrications. I just think that the TD needs more training, more understanding of the process. The new corps of TDs, are more like quality control than a true designer. I look at TD as an engineers of the clothing, a good engineer must be imaginative, understand the fundamentals and be innovative.

  22. Emma A says:

    Thanks for your quick replies!
    That does seem to be the beef. I have still not stopped to be surprised by how difficult it is for management to understand the process of pattern cutting (and understanding the need of understanding it) and hence the skill needed for e.g. and pattern makers and even more so, TD’s.

    If I some day manage a teqnicue for enlightening them, I will sure share it here in some way..

  23. Dilys says:

    Good luck in trying. Most of the management does not see eye to eye with the TD, to them, we are costly, and an road block to fast and easy production. Speed to market, with race to the bottom, even though the job title Technical Designer still has a nice ring to it, it is going the same way Pattern makers are, lower cost, lower quality, faster turn around and take whatever the vendors ship to us at a deep discount. Nominal cost is all they care about, the quality, the reputation and the integrity of the company is no longer any issues to the management. I think I am more negative than most on this issue. The reason why is: Most of the management leaves the company before any of these real issues hits the fan, the President, VP’s and directors already left the company and move on to a bigger, better title and compensation package while the production people were left holding the bags.

  24. xtadesign says:

    I love that this thread has been continuing on for 3 years!

    In 1994 I started as a fit model for a very large discount retailer, moved to a ‘measurement technician’, then to an Assistant TD all the way to a Senior TD and now a Technical Design manager with another company. The downfall of this informal education, like so many others have commented on, was the lack of patternmaking experience and factory experience. I had more factory experience (LA/NY) than patternmaking. Our overseas partners did not want to share patterns and my company did not want to be liable for the pattern. ????? Luckily for me the TD’s I worked with were highly skilled in pattern making.

    Now to the ‘beef’ up above…I now work for a manufacturer that is well staffed with a design team, tech design team, AND pattern department. This can be challenging between pattern and TD if you have a talented TD staff that is accustomed to owning their category and therefore the pattern. TD leads the fit sessions (pattern attends via video conference as they are in a different state), creates and maintains the spec pack, communicates to the vendors, follows up on sample development/timelines. In our office we are held accountable for consistency of fit and construction. In the other office where pattern resides, they are held accountable for consistency of production patterns. They may make changes to the pattern to maintain their production standards and we won’t be notified, or their spec change makes sense to their standards, but not to ours. In addition, Management utilizes what we call our Key POM’s (key points of measurement) for each style. They are looking for likeness in numbers between like fits and fabrics. If these numbers don’t align, trouble ensues.

    I’d also like to add that my company is very much UNLIKE what Dilys comments on above. We are highly regarded, encouraged to travel, think outside the box, of course always challenged to speed up the process, but highly regarded at the same time. My company had a TD staff before it had a true Product Design staff :)

    A formal education is great and is important to many, but may not be entirely relevant to the TD Field. I agree with Yao that the best education availabe right now for a TD is hands-on. I have had tremendous luck hiring persons with experience over education. Start in pattern making and manufacturing and you will have a solid foundation and a desirable skill set to grow on.

  25. Brandon says:

    The tech designer is the mediator between the factory, the company and the designer. Designers sometimes don’t understand that you’re working with a factory that has put a price on what they will produce. You put 20 stitches on the design, and the factory says you have to do it in 10. It’s because of the numbers the factory is dealing with to keep costs down. You have to talk to the company and get them past language that they’re not getting, because they just want to make a beautiful garment.

  26. There is an excellent full time job opportunity for Technical Design / Production Coordinator listed here in the forum. The job starts Dec 15th, 2009.

    The firm is a small family-owned and operated childrenswear company in New York, producing childrenswear since 1928. Most of our work (sleepwear and swimsuits) is private label and we have manufactured for Macy’s, Wal-Mart, Disney and TJ Maxx as well as smaller retailers with very specific needs.

    Please do not post your interest in this position in comments. Go to the forum to get specific information. Thanks

  27. Amsterdam says:

    fyi-Technical Designers have been around since the 80’s. A TD creates specs, develops grades, creates design detail & construction methods all the way down to the stitch count. Fits samples items & approves for prod for approx 30-50 items, approx 5 seasons. These jobs are where the hib of the industry is, NYC, LA, SF, PA, & FL.
    Pattern making background was not requirement in the 80’s, but thank goodness it is now. Most TD’s in NYC make quarterly visits to overseas factories, so w/in 5 yrs, they become seasoned very quickly, everything is quicker in NYC : )
    Yikes, children’s wear comps in NYC are mostly privately owned & even though they are most likely a multi-mil dolllar comp, it still runs like a privately owned comp: ) FYI-they most likely will not consider anyone that does not have TD exp or NYC exp, sorry
    Dear Dilys,
    FYI- TD’s create pattern blocks, at least every comp I have ever worked for . A good TD will be able to create, blocks, create specs with a block ref for vendors. Able fit, comment, & approve in a speedy manner while maintaining delivery & design integrity, a good TD…

    Hi xtadesign!
    Excellent pts! I’ve been a TD forever, well at least since NAFTA in the late 80’s, when the factories became “overseas factories”, I became a TD/Product Developer/Fit Specialist & at the beginning we were referred to as Spec Techs(hate that name, we do WAY more than spec an item)

    Hi Brandon,
    In regards to a designer being the liason btwn design & fty. The price is detemined by a critical part of the process, creating tech packs for pricing. This means while creating a tech pack a TD works very closely w/the designer to detemine design/construction, general specs, becaue yes the price will w/out a doubt be increased if labor/notions/specs/etc are increased, a good or seasoned designer knows this & so does the prod dept.

    Hi Miriam,
    at least PA has Urban outfitter, Lilly Pulitzer, QVC, & some other I can’t think of, not like Chi….nothing: (

  28. Dilys says:

    I agree with you Amsterdam, A good TD would be able to do all the listed above plus more, because we also must have a keen eye for the things that Designers are not capable of, even in regards to their design. The company that send their TDs overseas are not as many as you think. I had work with some big names company (publicly traded companies) and let me tell you, they do not send their TDs oversea anymore than maybe once a year if that.

    I recently run into a major issue with fitting. I have established fit that works with our customer, a new Design VP came in, want to change to fit, I fought teeth and nail, until the New President of the company basically told me I must do what I was told. I even went as far as producing two fit for them, one that I believe how our garment should fit, and one that is a much smaller fit that Design requested. Everyone when for the smaller fit garment. I even suggested that; there must have some marketing behind it, so the customer knows the fit had changed. Long and behold, when the bulk shipment hit the store, I was hauled into the office, being told that my fit was *uck up, customer complaint that it is too small……. I was smart enough to hold on to all the fit samples I produced. I brought in the fit Model, different sizes that we had used before, and show them what they have chosen. I was told, in the midst of the production cycle, I must go back and changed all the specs back to what I had established. This request did a major hiccup for the production team. Now, not only I have to catch the production that is not yet cut, but also, the consumption, and costing must be redone by the production manager. There are quite a few late night screaming matches at the office with the oversea vendors. And of course , we are still in the mess right now. Now, the head of the departments wants to over-compensate the spec, which I advice against already.

    I am still wondering, why aren’t there marketing campaign behind the change of fit for our customers? No one seems to remember that it was suggested in the meeting. That is one of the most frustrating issue for me.

    I worked with two categories, so, I know the turn around time involved. I worked with about 150 styles in development stages, design always over develop. The final adoption number is about 30% of it. So, the bulk of the work is in development, which is the initial spec and proto samples. After the sales sample stage, usually the garment is commercially acceptable already. Bulk is not an issue, it is the development stage that kills me. Especially when the product developers and designers are so inexperience and cocky that suggestions are not taken into consideration.

    Why are these so inexperience people? because they are inexpensive, and unfortunately, to the VPs, they are also disposable. Let go of one, hire another one back in a few weeks. I give basic lessons to designers in Sweaters before they start if I know they are not experienced with Sweaters. I gave lessons to 7 designers last year, none of them lasted. So, I stop doing it now. It is useless. If it wasn’t for the fact that I am pregnant and the company actually provided good health insurance, I would have left a while back. It is a like a lost cause.

  29. Nai says:

    I am in the midst of making a career change and had recently applied for the technical design program at FIT. I just wanted to get some feedback whether going to this program was a waste of my time or if it would be a better option to get certification for patternmaking. Any insight would be appreciated. Thank you.

  30. Kathleen says:

    As I said in the entry (and many others agreed), “the candidate must already be an highly experienced pattern maker to start with.” so I’m not sure I understand why you asked the question.

    I’m guessing you’re looking for the easiest entry point into a new career and you’re hoping we can suggest ways to make it easier by suggesting you either work around that first part or for us to be able to mitigate it entirely. I get it, that’s not a crime. But I don’t think it’s possible. That’s not to say plenty of people aren’t doing it without being a pattern maker (however awful or good) but it causes no end to frustration for many of us on the production end. So I guess the question should be, do you want a job or is this something you want to enjoy and aspire to be good at? If it’s the former, the FIT program is a way in the door. If it’s the latter… you know the answer. First you need to be able to sew. Say, do you sew? I’m a pattern maker (joke)

  31. Stephanie says:

    I agree with most of what Dilys wrote above. I think it is true of most mass-market, low-end wholesalers, one of whom I work for. My company designs and produces childrens’ wear for one of the big box monoliths, and our garments retail for almost nothing.

    I am one of three technical designers at the company, responsible for not only infant/toddler, but boys 4-18, boys & girls 4-7, and menswear. I can say from experience that design knows practically nothing when it comes to construction, fit, and bulk production. Every season we play the same game: how much ‘make’ can design get into a garment before they are told it is too costly, or not production viable. We are also constantly pushed to make our garments smaller, regardless of the many, many comparisons we have done with competitor garments that indicate otherwise. I agree that once bulk begins, the process is easier, but development is usually a huge pain, and quite frustrating.

    I continue to be astounded at how very little the designers seem to know about construction. Everything has to be explained to them, and often they don’t understand the explanations, or don’t believe them. They also seem to be operating under the delusion that we should decrease our tolerances for bulk, regardless of the fact that we are making very, very cheap, low-quality garments. The mind reels.

    And just to give some background, I studied Fashion Design and Construction at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which is primarily a fine arts school. Most of what I know about the industry, and my position, I learned on the job. When I came to NYC, I knew how to drape and draft patterns, but had no experience with technical design, or with mass production. Looking back, I would have preferred to have more experience in pattern making before starting my career, but agree with some other posters that recommend getting a job over getting additional certificates from school.

  32. sasha says:

    I am a student at FIT that will be graduating in my associates in fashion design in December. I am wondering if it’s necessary to get a bachelor’s degree in Technical Design (it includes factory patternmaking, tech packs, grading, fitting, and business solutions). I know how to sew, use illustrator, measure, fit, design, make patterns, and run a business. I just don’t know about factory production and grading (is there a difference?)

    Note: I’m only attempting this position to obtain a well paying job on my way to what I really want to do, which is costume design (I plan on getting my masters in costume design and I also plan to have my own fashion design company in the future)

    So, is it REEEEALLY necessary if I already know the majority of what’s needed? There are a lot of students opting for this now but I feel like I have an advantage over them…But in the end I just want to be a costume designer. I just want to make money in the process (I want to start a family)

  33. Hi Sasha
    As you can see from comments and this entry, to do the job well requires very strong pattern making skills. Strong pattern skills requires strong construction skills. It’s great that you have a lot of confidence in your school but practical assessments are best formed by comparing the curriculum of other programs.

    I know they teach you in school (nearly every school!) that being a pattern maker is the first step to being a designer. That pattern makers are an understudy to designers. This is fiction; pattern makers earn at least twice as much as designers because the job is engineering rather than aesthetics. They don’t teach you that it’s a whole other mindset and career trajectory.

    Most successful (not to be confused with famous) designers have a degree but rarely in fashion. If you just want to make money, try getting a job now to see if anyone will hire you. Skills that are valued in the workplace only come through experience so the sooner you can get that, the better. Hopefully you have a knack for it and will learn quickly. There is always room for somebody who is good.

    The problem that young people face today is that getting a job in a flagship city is almost impossible if they have no experience. Fashion has always been very competitive but it’s worse now. It’s almost impossible to get an interview without a degree if you have no experience. The only way to know if you have to have the bachelor’s degree is if you’ve tried to get a job and haven’t made any headway. Alternatively, it is not unusual for professors to look for jobs for their best students without the student even knowing about it. If that’s the case for you, you won’t need the degree. It’s why I never got one.

  34. Annanee says:

    This is a wonderful blog spot and apologize for finding this so late in the game. 3 years of blog posts, wow!
    Every conversation on the role of TD’s is valid and certainly within my scope of experience.
    i started out in the HS of Fashion Industries where I learned to sew and make patterns. On to F.I.T. where i contnued I developed specializations. i was in the first graduating class at FIT who earned a BFA in fashion design. My stronger points in draping led me to my first role as an asst designer draper.
    moved to Macy’s corp buying where I was a technical designer and after fittings, learned how to communicate , what i call, “pattern making by mail” That’s what a TD is.
    in my 28 years of working in the industry as Lead TD roles, I’ve had the pleasure to travel all over the world: East Asia, South America, Europe. I worked with the pattern makers in these factories to establish our fits. i got first hand view of how they operated on software pattern making systems. I evaluated and shared pattern making techniques with vendors all over the world, troubleshooting as a TD.
    My newest role now includes helping the TD teams implement of PLM systems. i have been through two different systems and so far, my opinion is : there is no perfect system that can deliver what it promises. It is still in the early stages.

    I have recently left my position for the same reasons some of you have described. “Stupid people in power making stupid decisions, and my team getting left with the task of cleaning up the mess.
    This time I said no thanks, you do it! LOL felt really good after 28 years!

    i am now on a quest to share my knowledge and experience with the upcoming technical designers of tomorrow. Just wondering what forum I should use to create a training ground.
    I’m open to starting a solutions network forum…ask and you shall receive expert advise. just wondering who could be interested and what forum i should use.

    My expertise is in tailored Jkts, denim, dresses, knits, sweaters, grade rules, POM’s and now PLM.
    Reach out to me if you need to ask about solutions.

    Eric’s list was spot on and thank you Kathleen for this blog spot going on now for actually 4 years!
    best anw

  35. Dilys says:

    HI Anna,

    Nice to see someone as experienced as you are with the TD profession.

    I have a question, what do you think about the Fastfit360 program? We are in the midst of trying to implement something like this. Have you tried this, how does it work in real life? What are the pitfalls that we should be looking out for?

    Any information is appreciated. Thanks

    Dilys

  36. Annanee says:

    Hi everyone, pls note this gentle reminder, i am addressed as annanee ( sounds like anne marie)

    Hi Dilys,
    Of all of the systems I’ve evaluated so far, Fast Fit 360 , is that with Roxy Starr?
    I found it to be the most visually workable and I actually started to introduce that program to my company as a innovation tool which could save the company lots of $$ in shipping, fitting, etc costs.
    i was able to visualize the fit problems and could imagine myself writing the comments based on the visuals. of course you’d still need to use a model but a good mannequin could work as long as she was close to the real model. i imagined working with the off shore offices (who i intended to have the same system) and guiding their hands on corrections.

    i don’t know what the pit falls are as I have never used it but i will ask around.
    i do feel the communications could be clearer for the oso to see the problems up close.

    What i do want to share is that it is not a PLM system, which is what all of the bigger companies are striving for. A Plm system gives them metrics and statistics and fast fit does not…?

    Still, I vote for fast fit 360 as a very viable and strong tool for “TD’s to communicate with”. If this tool could eventually capture the metrics, it will be strong competition for the rest of the plm systems.

    If there is anything you don’t u/stand pls ask. i tend to abbreviate a lot lately!
    anw

  37. Dilys says:

    Hi Annanee,

    Sorry about abbreviated your name. Mea Culpa!

    I know big companies are marching towards PLM, and I haven’t really deal with PLM on day to day bases yet, but I have used it on and off. It is somewhat similar to PDM, with a few more bells and whistles, like auto called out of out of tolerance spec and etc.

    Actually, my current employer is implementing PLM, and also test piloting the Fastfit360 with one of the branch band. We will see how it goes. As for the fit modeling, I believed we are using a form, and the forms would be the same all over the world. Of course that does not take away the life fit model fit sessions. After all, the from cannot tell us if the armhole is uncomfortable, or the across back is tight, and rigid, or the crotch is cutting in, and etc. No form can take away the nuance of fit from a good fit model.

    Thank you for the info though!

    Thanks

    Dilys

  38. Kathleen says:

    From what I can tell of Fastfit is that it is a packaged solution, best suited for companies that don’t have the staffing or acumen to design and implement a visual data sharing system. Likewise, suited for folks that don’t have 3d CAD software programs (optitex etc). I also agree it’s not a pdm/plm. Fwiw, I think this one is the best, especially for technical support staff.

  39. Colleen says:

    I am currently working on my MFA. My ultimate goal is to teach fashion design/technical design. I have taught fashion design at a university, but needed my advances degree. I want my thesis to involve TD. I am not sure in what direction?
    * Explore the future of fashion designer vs technical designer.
    * Explore the skill sets needed to be taught in a university program to produce competent TDs.
    I am hoping for some input as to what direction would best benefit future fashion students.

  40. Stephanie says:

    Hi Colleen,

    Looking back on my own experience, I could have benefitted hugely from more exposure to graded specs, the principles of grading in general, and troubleshooting fit problems on a model. These are the skills I use most often in my job, ones I was pretty unprepared to use after completing my BFA.

    Upon graduating, I had never even heard of a Technical Designer, let alone had any concept of what the actual business of fashion looked like. Blame that on a fine arts school that produces “Designers” with no suggestions of how they’ll eventually procure jobs.

    Best of luck with your studies!

  41. Kathleen says:

    Hi Colleen. I’m assuming you’ve got all of the appropriate TD books -or maybe I should post a list of what those are? That’s an idea… Anyway, culling through those should give you ideas plus a survey of what other universities are offering in the way of course material coupled with feedback from employers hiring TDs.

  42. Mari says:

    Hello All,

    I have worked as a TD for 5 years, and have developed a spec system that results in a 90-95% approvable garment sample in every garment category I have ever worked on. That being said, if I have done my job correctly, the departments around me—have no idea, why this is happening. A good TD will be required to:
    reinterpret design sketches to match the agreed upon fit- based upon fitness for end use, of course
    make adjustments to the base fit as needed depending upon end use considerations
    communicate the designer’s (revised) needs to the pattermaker (this means you need to speak fluent patternmaker

  43. CHRIS says:

    It is clearly noted that the person that wrote this article does not have any background in technical designer, or perhaps in fashion
    It almost insulting to read the description and the qualification that are being mentioned.
    This article is misleading and discouraging for those who are entering this industry…it should be taken down.

  44. Kathleen says:

    So what you really mean to say is that you feel the standards are too high for the average aspirant or it does not mesh with the expectations others have for your performance so we should eliminate the higher barre criteria? Oh yeah, that’ll fly.

    Eric Shulte’s has been a technical designer for many years; probably one of the first.

    At the same time, I’m not saying you’re completely wrong either but since you didn’t elaborate as to why you know better and you did not make your identity known for the purposes of experience and credential comparisons, it is difficult to assign weight to your points to the extent I would delete this post just because an anonymous someone said I should.

  45. MiMi says:

    I’m really late for this conversation, but if I could add my two cents…

    A Technical Designer doesn’t have to be a highly skilled patternmaker, but it will make their job so much easier, and allow that person to take on more work and learn more. Which will translate to faster promotions, better pay, less hours, etc.

    But for those who are straight out of school, you don’t have to be yet. Infact, working in the area of technical design will begin to teach those who were not experienced and talented patternmakers how to approach patterns with precision, and a better understanding of stitches and construction. You will need to check patterns, balance them, and communicate corrections. The only reason you don’t do corrections to the patterns yourself, is because you 30 other samples sitting on your desk requiring the same attention.

    If you’re coming straight out of school, I strongly recommend a former graduate interning, either during school or after school, at a company where they get to help with cutting, pattern making, draping, sewing up samples ,etc. If you were never great at doing this, that’s okay. You still need the experience. It will play a part later. Unfortunately, in school we get so caught up in designing something and finally making it come to life, that we’re never ready to criticize fit, proportion, and workmanship. It’s too personal, and we were always able to say, “That’s what I wanted.”

    If you’re worried about people finding out how bad you were at sewing, or slow with patterns, etc…When you take on your first tech job, you won’t be doing anything outrageous. You’ll start off specing garments, and getting familiar with different styles, and different points of measurement. You’ll need to pick up the speed, but the last thing you want to do as a technical designer, is exaggerate your skills, and make up/guess conclusions, because it only exposes you as inexperienced , and it will make you look incompetent. It can even get you fired.

    If you’re willing to learn, there are plenty of companies looking to teach and share years of experience. You’ll get to see different ways of constructing the same style, and you’ll start to notice the garments you don’t like workmanship-wise, and the garments that don’t spec so well because of twisting, torquing, gathering in the wrong places, etc.

    The job will progress to you taking fitting notes, entering data, and talking about the issues with your co-workers and managers. Just because you don’t have the experience of a patternmaker, doesn’t make you useless to the industry. You are still necessary to the industry as an assistant, and office coordinator, but the fitting, pattern knowledge, construction knowledge… these things come with time. The people who don’t do well in Tech, are the people who don’t care to apply themselves.

    Not everyone was meant to be a highly skilled patternmaker; and in my opinion, the personalities are a million miles apart. But if you find yourself working as a technical designer, and you’re bored, and you’re trying to play designer, merchandiser, or production in your meetings, you just might be in the wrong field. Most of the successful technical designers LOVE what they do, and it is not boring for them.

    If you’re looking to be a assistant patternmaker, GOODLUCK. No one really hires assistant patternmakers anymore- at least not in NY; and the ones that do are usually acting as a studio manager. There’s little to no time to learn, and very little opportunity to troubleshoot through multiple problems, because those have been passed off to the experienced patternmaker; and they are usually dealing with their own problems, as their physical work is on display and up for scrutiny. If you’re looking to be an Patternmaker, you need someone to take you under their wing.

    My comments are really going out to those post graduates with no desire to be designers, and they’re seeing a million postings for technical designer. Do not pass it up. It’s just as interesting, and creative. Not to mention, the more you know, the more job security you build. I do not recommend a certificate, although the classes are important. A 4 year degree (even 2 year program) tells me there is a commitment to learning things, and the knowledge won’t be wasted on someone who was just trying to make money, or thought fashion would be cool.

    The only thing I can imagine stopping a person from being a technical designer, is someone not being good with math. Don’t bother showing up, if you can’t understand basic geometry, a little physics, and algebra.

  46. Phito says:

    MIMI You are right on the money. I learned tech design while in school via an internship. I was blessed to have a senior tech designer that took the time to show me what to do. It is a necessary position if you want your business to strive and save money. Fortunately i was good at pattern making in school so it made it easier to learn. I later got a job at the same company and though good at pattern making it was not really necessary to know it well. I only had to deal with the patterns when the samples came really out of whack, that is when we pulled them out and revised them. Great topic!!!

  47. Kristina says:

    Hello!

    To start out…This has been a very enlightening conversation to read. It’s definitely helped me better understand the TD field. So, I’d love to throw out some questions…

    I’m currently trying to transition into Technical Design myself. I have had a few interviews with some large fashion retailers over the past year for an entry level (Asst. TD) positions but I haven’t gotten an offer yet. I received my BA in Theatre/Costume Design in 2010 and have been working as a costume technician and costume designer since then. I have approximately five years of pattern drafting/draping and garment construction experience, not including my school years. So I feel pretty strong in the pattern drafting/fitting/construction areas. I’m also already knowledgable in the Adobe programs (Photoshop/Illustrator). Unfortunately, I lack knowledge of grading and computerized pattern drafting, so I’m currently working towards remedying that by teaching myself programs like Accumark. I am also unfamiliar with PLM/PDM software. However, I have taken a course in Technical Design online with FIT which taught me the basics of POM and Tech packs.

    So that brings me to my questions…Way back xtadesign said:

    “A formal education is great and is important to many, but may not be entirely relevant to the TD Field. I agree with Yao that the best education availabe right now for a TD is hands-on. I have had tremendous luck hiring persons with experience over education. Start in pattern making and manufacturing and you will have a solid foundation and a desirable skill set to grow on.”

    I’m afraid that with the stiff competition in my area (Columbus, OH) that my non-fashion degree and lack of specialized training in industry specific software (Accumark/WebPDM), despite my strength in patternmaking/garment construction, is making me an undesirable candidate…Or at least not as desirable as a freshly graduated fashion-major. I also strongly suspect that many of the positions are being filled by the companies’ networking with the college…Which I’m hopeless up against.

    Could any of you knowledgeable and experienced TDs please give me some insight on how to make myself a stronger candidate? It’s pretty hard to get industry-specfic experience if no one will hire you into an entry-level position in the first place, despite what xtadesign said a few years ago. Do I need another degree or certification to be a real contender? What things are best to show in interviews…Tech flats? Tech packs? Patterns? All of the above?

    Thanks again for all the info here…It’s such a great resource!

    Kristina

  48. Kathleen says:

    Every consider freelance work? It could be an interim solution to gain experience while also learning. Have you created a portfolio of sample tech packs and posted them online? That would likely garner interest from smaller companies. I’m sorry I couldn’t be more helpful. I wish I had a go-to TD myself. I can do tech packs, I’m just not as efficient (read: cost effective) as someone who does a lot of them.

  49. Kristina says:

    Thanks for your reply, Kathleen! I have been submitting resumes for freelance and I even got an interview at one of the big name companies, but I believe they are really seeking more experienced candidates. Definitely not entry-level like me. Perhaps this is because they are the big name companies and smaller companies would feel/look at me differently? Most of the companies we have in my location are big guys, so I’m not sure if we even have any smaller companies. I will look into that though. I have some sample excel tech packs that I am showing in my interviews but I had not thought to post them online. Thank you for that suggestion!

  50. Dawn says:

    FIT currently offers a bachelor’s degree in technical design. The certificate program is for patternmaking. To qualify for the bachelor’s degree program most candidates have associates degrees in fashion design. I recently graduated from the program and found a job. I am very excited to start my new career.

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