They can’t make what I designed

I had an interesting problem. When that happens, I usually call Kathleen. I recently visited the contractor I use and showed them a sample of a technique I wanted to use to create a scalloped edge on a garment. The problem is that my contractor does not have a zig zag machine, and in all the garments I have ever seen, a zig zag stitch is used. My contractor suggested a cover stitch.

So, first things first, I wondered if it was common for a sewing contractor to not have a zig zag machine (Kathleen says it is, in fact, she can’t remember the last time she has seen a zig zag machine in a shop). Then I asked her what to do. While a cover stitch would do the job, I don’t know if there are technical reasons that the coverstitch is not used that may become apparent once samples are made. And truthfully, I don’t want to find another contractor because I have a pretty good relationship with my contractor.

Here is Kathleen’s response…

Boy, this is another of those things I never remember to write about but this kind of thing comes up all the time. It is very common that you’ll find the “perfect contractor” but once you’ve been working with them for awhile, you may have this problem if the specifications or demands of your product changes (or evolves). You may also have this problem when you’re first looking for a contractor. The problem isn’t insurmountable but it’ll require some creativity.

It’s very common that contractors don’t have certain kinds of specialized machines and if you’re their only customer who needs that particular finish, it’s really not worth it for them to buy the equipment. This problem usually comes up with folders more often than machines. Some folders can be very pricey ($800+) and if you find the perfect contractor, you’ll end up losing a production slot if they don’t have the equipment. Now, a lot of contractors will simply say they don’t have the equipment so they can’t do the work but they usually won’t suggest a remedy because that involves you having to make a capital outlay. It may be up to you to suggest that you could buy the part or machine.

The reality is, as an entrepreneur, you’ll accumulate accouterments beyond patterns. It’s likely you’ll collect specialized tools like folders too. Other things you may end up with are swatch cutters along with the obvious tagging guns. Like patterns, it is standard that you take your folders to a contractor if they need them. I think a lot of DEs would be surprised to know how often a particular part or machine is standing in the way of their order. One designer a friend of mine worked with, knew that their product required a custom made folder so she had some made up and gave one to each contractor she used. She didn’t have as many problems placing production accordingly. That’s why you may want to consider buying the machine or part yourself.

I know the first thing DEs think is that the contractor will use their machine for other clients but it doesn’t really work that way. For example, in tours, the contractor will skip these machines. If you happen to notice them (as I do, the machines tend to be very specialized and thus noteworthy), the contractor will say it belongs to a customer so they can’t use it. You’d probably be surprised to know how honest most professional contractors are.

Another option is flexibility in the product design and specifications of your item. It could be that the seam you want done can be done in a slightly different way and it wouldn’t require the piece of equipment that your product does. I know many people are thinking right now, “great, so that means doing it the crappy way” but the reality is, a designer is often using a seam finish that is actually inferior to what should or could be done readily. Their design needs to be reworked (read: pattern needs reworking and that costs money). A good example is a flat felled seam. If you absolutely and positively insist that the seam be formed by two allowances of equal measures and then that one side is trimmed back, then folded, then restitched, you’re making an unnecessary battle of this and nobody’s going to want to work with you. The cost of a folder and machine that would do that is untenable, an unrealistic demand. Rather, the solution is in using standard equipment and sizing your seam allowances to fit the machine. In other words, it is possible that you don’t need to buy a folder or machine at all. To check, you’ll need to ask your contractor if there is another or a better way to form the seam you want. Often times there is. I get patterns in all the time and I always have to ask, “do you really want this sewed that way?”. That’s the real job of a production pattern maker by the way.

In Miracle’s example, I know what she’s talking about and personally, I don’t like how most of those zig zag seams are finished off but then I’m not having to deal with the demands of her product either. I know she has compared quite a few sample products that are made in this way (competitor’s products) but I don’t know why they do this. I don’t think it looks nice. The coverstitch is cleaner.
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I thought this was interesting because this is something I never considered. Now, in Los Angeles, contractors can rent specialized equipment by the day, but this requires a smooth production flow so that they don’t waste money renting a machine for more days than they need it. I’m not sure if this practice is common where I am (Northern California). The reason I know this is because I once met with a contractor about making samples and they didn’t have a machine that could do merrow stitching.

Another reason this comes up is because when you’re a DE, it’s very common that you will get a referral to a terrific contractor that meets all your criteria. They will work with your quantity, they produce quality work, they are reliable, they adhere to labor guidelines, and when you show them your samples, you’ll find they do not have the equipment to produce certain parts of your design so they can’t do it.

In some cases you can compromise but in others you can’t. If this happens a lot (meaning you come to realize that very few contractors have the specialized machine you need) and you are not able to work around that and if you can afford it, you may want to consider purchasing a machine or finding out if rental is available in your area.

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5 comments

  1. graham says:

    Ha ha. I know this one well. I do some work with mylar fabrics that must be sewed with a zig zag if you want the product to really last.

    During my last production run, we went through over two hundred contractor shops in and around Istanbul, and not one had a zig zag machine. They just don’t exist, or at least they don’t exist in normal places. We had just bought a bar tack machine, so we weren’t in the financial position to buy another machine. I wish we could have.

    My experience with contracters in Turkey is that they will definitely hold onto a machine for you, and not use it. They might call you up and ask if they can use it for a customer, and then pay you for it. YMMV, but that’s my experience.

  2. Beverly says:

    We use zig-zag and a 3 step zig-zag all the time. We could not apply elastics without them, but my situation is different. We do bras, and panties, and nothing but.

  3. Rocio says:

    I can see by the date of this post that it was written when renting specialised machines by the day was still an option

    These days, the few places that still left and offer specialised equipment for rental require a minimum 3 month commitment (which needs to be paid up front)

    Regardless, it’s still nice to be a full package provider based in Los Angeles where we do have a number of options to enable a wider range of capabilities

  4. Barb Taylorr says:

    In regards to whether coverstitch or zig zag look better on a scalloped edge…
    I wouldn’t be surprised if the samples they were looking at that were zigged zagged were originally done that way simply because that contracter did not have a coverstitch machine.
    Then again, you can usually make sharper corners with a zig, so maybe that was the reason.

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