Why pattern makers don’t want to grade patterns

This topic comes up often enough that it should be a stand alone entry. I know I’ve mentioned the reasons why pattern makers don’t want to grade patterns before -that they don’t want to tell you- but it has been buried in other entries and I never remember which ones.

This entry is intended for the designer who doesn’t make patterns or lacks experience and or confidence and decides to hire it out. It will critical to also read Giving instructions to a pattern grader and all the links within that entry. Links to related material appear at close. Yes I know it’s a lot of reading but this can be the solution if you’re getting the run around or think you’re being overcharged so it could be worth it.

There are two possible scenarios and I will explain what each one means because they will be reluctant to tell you. The reasons a pattern maker doesn’t want to grade the patterns they did make versus why they don’t want to grade patterns they didn’t make are different.

Did make but don’t want to grade:
There are two basic reasons why they don’t want to grade patterns they did make. Either you aren’t ready or they aren’t ready.

In saying you aren’t ready, this means you shouldn’t be having patterns graded at this stage. I’ve had a lot of people come to me and want a pattern made and graded at the same time. A good pattern maker won’t want to do this. You need to have samples made, fit test them, re-tweak the pattern maybe and take a few orders before you can justify pattern grading. It’s all in my book. If they didn’t care about you, they’d do whatever you asked.

The other reason you may not be ready is if you don’t have sizing specifications for the grade you have in mind. I wrote about this yesterday. You are not responsible for creating grade rules or rule libraries but the pattern maker cannot create these for you if you have not designed or have in mind, basic sizing attributes and parameters for your product.

In saying they don’t want to grade patterns because they aren’t ready, I mean it could be they don’t have confidence in their skills because they don’t have much experience with it. Obviously you need to probe for this well before you ever hire somebody. Be really sure they’re not glossing over it (because they probably really want the job) and that you’re not sifting information that you really don’t want to hear (no one likes switching horses mid-stream).

And finally, some pattern makers don’t like grading at all. Quite a few actually but we do feel obligated to grade patterns we make so if we didn’t make it, we’re off the hook more easily. If it’s a matter of not liking to grade, the pattern maker should be able to give you referrals to grading services they’ve worked with before. If they can’t give you a referral, this is bad news and in two possible ways. Either they can’t give you a referral because they haven’t worked with a grading service (their experience is very limited) or you have been a pain in the patootie and they’re not going to pass you along to someone with whom they want to maintain cordial professional relationships. Barring that possibility because I know all of you are just lovely, referrals should be a condition of placing the work with them. In the interviewing process, they should mention who they use and be able to give you a basic idea of their pricing.

Didn’t make and don’t want to grade:
I’m going to tell you upfront that it is not for the reason that many people suspect. You think you’re being punished for not having hired them in the first place. Or -this happens just as often- you think you’re being charged extra as a penalty for the same reason. Both are defensive postures and if we’re just starting a relationship, neither is likely true. So you came to us after the fact. You did what you had to do with the best information you had at the time. No one worth hiring will hold that against you.

The main reason most pattern makers won’t grade a pattern they didn’t make is because there are often errors in it. Now, when you grade a pattern, any errors in it will grow by an order of magnitude. However, since the pattern was fine in the one size you sewed it up in -and that’s assuming your sample maker told you what you needed to hear- you will blame the pattern maker for the magnified errors. I don’t know anyone who will sign on for that. We necessarily must take responsibility for the quality of our work and redo it if it’s not right. But we cannot be responsible for mistakes that existed before it ever got to us.

Most pattern makers won’t take the work and that’s that because the only other alternative is to pay the pattern maker to check the pattern before they grade it. However, since the client may already suspect they’re being penalized for having used another service, they may think this is a strategy to make more money off of them which is why the pattern maker will not mention the option. We are painfully aware that our services can be costly so we are very reluctant to mention this option if the customer thinks we are already gouging them (and many do).

The other reason we won’t mention this option is because some clients think it is our job to check the pattern before we grade it. The customer often becomes angry. Either they say we should do it at no charge to them (“if we want the business”) or that this service is something we should do in the normal course of business and roll it into our overhead. We just can’t. If we’re only getting paid $10 per graded size times 4 sizes ($40), that doesn’t begin to cover one hour’s time to check it. Or however long it takes. If it’s a well made pattern, it usually doesn’t take as long. Correcting it can be another story. Some patterns would take so much work you may be better off having it re-made but then that’s another kettle of fish. A lot of designers really looove their pattern maker but the pattern maker may not be that great so if you say the pattern needs to be re-made, you’re questioning the designer’s judgment and their relationships. In the end it is easier to turn it down, sidestepping all the drama and not grade patterns one didn’t make.

Another reason we may not want to grade is related to why you didn’t have the other party do it. I will always want to know why. It’s usually a bad sign. Often the customer didn’t pay what was owed so they couldn’t get the job finished or the pattern maker wasn’t any good (meaning these patterns probably aren’t ready to be graded).

There are other reasons too. If your patterns are digital, the new service may not have an import filter specific to the format of your patterns or the filter may be wonky and not import properly. A possible option is to have your patterns re-digitized. Shop around, I’ve heard that some services charge insane prices, like $20 a piece. That is crazy talk.

If you want hard copy patterns but the service does mostly computer patterns, they might not want to make hard copy graded pattern sets. It is a lot of work to cut them out. If you can handle that portion of the job (I’m telling you, it is a lot of work) they might take it on. One point that Lorraine made the other day in comments is making clear to the service the kind of output you need based on your operation while still in the interviewing phase because most of the time, services only print off a nest to send to the customer for checking.

And again, a service might not take you on if you don’t have it together, aka, you don’t have size specifications. You’d be surprised how many customers will come to us and expect us to pull numbers out of thin air. Or, the customer wants what is “customary” or “most common” or “average”. There is no such animal. If there were, you would not see the broad range of sizing differences that is common at retail. Every designer on the planet knows his or her grade is the only right one (and you say we’re stubborn). A grading service can help you figure this out and possibly make suggestions but it is not our responsibility to do that. What this really means is that we don’t want to be blamed if your money was spent on something that isn’t what you had in mind. But before I digressed, if you don’t have size specs before you come to us, it will take time for us to help you figure it out. The problem is, since many customers think we can just pull numbers out of thin air or we have a vast repository of secret knowledge to cull from or we can just borrow another customer’s sizing for you (never!), they are often shocked at how costly it can be and think we’re just milking them. As I said before, we know services are expensive so we will hesitate to mention anything that will increase your costs even if we think it is best that you do it.

If you don’t know what sizing specs you want, it is best to study the sizing of existing products in the market place. Even then, you cannot expect a service to know another company’s grade (you’d be amazed how many customers think we do). I recommend that you buy a range of consecutive sizes of at least one (but more is better) identical style and take them to be measured by the pattern grader who can then reverse engineer the grade. You could always do the measuring yourself but then the service would be wary of whether you measured the way they would or even the points of measure they would need. I’m not saying you aren’t qualified to do this but it is a statistical fact that you can have three different people measure the same body and they will come up with three different sets of measurements. True story.

Related:
What are grade specs, grade rules and grade rule libraries?
Sending patterns off for correction
Giving instructions to a pattern grader
Giving instructions to a pattern grader pt.2
Giving instructions to a pattern grader pt.3

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