The 7 minute cutting test pt.2

In which we learn what designers do or don’t know. Here were the entrants to our little test:

  1. Brian was first up to bat with his samples (one and two).
  2. David was next with a photo of his demonstration.
  3. Kate of stupid stripey fame was next. She had a problem with paper curling.
  4. Amy Charlton was next but not having a camera, could only use the one built into her Macbook. She tried. Yeah Amy!
  5. Then Lisa Blank who’s always a trooper weighed in.
  6. Donna did a sample but couldn’t provide a photo. She says it came out as she expected.
  7. Adrienne was next with hers. She says it didn’t work out like she expected. Frankly, hers didn’t work out like I expected either. If we were giving a prize for accuracy, she’d get it. There was a little growth but not much.
  8. Liz (who’s completed her trek through all the blog entries from the beginning) was second last. She didn’t provide a photo but did describe the expected results. [#8 is about 1/8″ longer and 1/16″ wider than #1, and developed a couple of subtle curves.]
  9. Last was Bente who sent me hers via email.

Now, let’s have a big round of applause for everyone who entered. Please, do click that. It was a hassle to find and load.

Here’s some photos of the samples.


What does every cutting sample have in common? Other than a few increasingly skewed lines, in all cases, the pattern grew larger. This is a tremendous problem and it is entirely preventable. I’ll bet you’re thinking it’s skill but it’s not. It’s method. As a point of comparison, here’s my cutting sample:

It doesn’t look bad at all; here it is blown up:

The Solution
Now I could run off and tell you how to prevent this but bear with me a moment; it’s important to learn how to analyze problems. They are usually sorted into rough categories according to Man, Method or Machine. Materials also plays a part but we’ll stick with these three for now. The problem here was not man (skill) or machine, it was method. Specifically, it was lack of a Best Practice. There is a best practice to prevent this. It’s called Always Cut the Line Away. Always. No Exceptions. You might think it doesn’t matter, that you’re the only one doing the work but as you grow, this problem will creep in if you don’t train everyone who touches your stuff.

In the course of manufacturing, your pattern will be re-cut any number of times. Perhaps not the pattern itself but there’s protos, samples, digitizing and cutting in production to say nothing of having to recopy the pattern innumerable times to correct it. By the way, do you know how cutting accuracy is checked? You grab the pieces left over from the marker and lay it on top of the original. That’s why I tell you in the book that you should save the cut paper pieces from the marker.

The goal of the cutting exercise is to compare the last piece made with the first piece to see how accurate it is to the original. The reason we do this is to mimic the number of times your pattern will be traced, cut and processed by various people in drafting, cutting, marking, digitizing and sewing. All told, your original pattern can be used more than 10 times. Which is why it is critical that it always be the same. If everyone is always working from #1, that’s nifty, variations will be slight -but they often are not working from #1. No no, various people in the process are working from rendition 4 or 7 -you just don’t know. Yes, there will be slight wonky variations owing to human error but why compound the problem with lack of a good method that will prevent the worst of it? Cut the line away.

Several people justified their process according to the way they work. Again, that’s nifty. One person is not the problem. The problem is that your preference (as opposed to a proven Best Practice) becomes the default. Everyone learns your way. If your way is better and takes less time, then marvelous. But the reality is, most people are not going to take the pains you do as much as you wish they would. It’s better to adopt this and then not have to worry about it. Best of all, anyone can train anyone else. With your painstaking complex method, you’ll have to do it every single time and then still not arrive at predictable results for all your efforts.

Consider this practical example: What if you’re cutting out two pattern pieces? One is a concave line (neckline) and one is a straight band collar. If you’re not cutting the line away, your concave line is getting smaller and your collar is getting bigger. Now, I couldn’t measure everyone’s samples but in the tests I’ve done here, the differences amounted to at least a 1/4″. Subtract that from the neckline and add it to the collar and you’ve got some p-o’d seamstresses who are working with an extra half inch they don’t know what to do with.


In sum, if you aren’t cutting the line away, you won’t be training your people to do it either. Best practices means developing good work habits. Cutting the line away was literally the first thing I learned in pattern making school. And while I’m thinking of it, this was the second thing I learned; it’s related and just as important.

At the beginning of each production pattern class I do, we do the cutting game. The variations always surprise me. Here’s an analysis from my last two sessions starting with the photo comparing the Wednesday and Friday classes to each other.

Wednesday’s class only had two people, Friday had three. Also, Friday’s class cut the pattern more times than Wednesday so considering variation, Wednesday should have had the more accurate result. But no, Wednesday’s result was less accurate than Friday’s. In sum, don’t assume that one person (you) will have a better result than a group. If someone in your group is wise to the cut the line away thing, they will act as a control and prevent degradation of the pattern.

If I haven’t bored you witless yet, let’s talk about materials. Some people had difficulty with accuracy because they weren’t using the prescribed material. Everyone wants to use what they’ve been using. That’s not dandy. Manila oak tag paper is used for a reason. It’s really thin but it’s also hard enough to trace and get a good line. Yes, I know you want to save money by using lighter weight for proto patterns but that is costing you more than you know. If you can’t trace it well, how could someone else? Every person introduces their infinitesimal error into the process, you can’t avoid that. That’s why you counteract its likely occurrence with good materials and method. Manila is strong enough to draft on and it’s easy to trace accurately. I’ve seen every kind of material possible to make patterns on but sooner or later, if someone lasts long enough in this business to not go broke, you know what? They all start using oak tag pattern paper. Now, if you’re a one person outfit and finances are limited, I get it. You make do. And you should. Just be very wary of justifying your short-term make-do choice as superior and a suitable long term choice.

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