Always get your patterns. Always. No exceptions

Lamentably, this bears iteration (albeit paraphrased a bit):

… every time you pay an invoice for pattern services, you should get the electronic file for it. If you’re having manual patterns made, request that the provider drop a tracing in the mail.* If you don’t get the file or the tracing, you don’t contract for more work until you get what you want. It doesn’t matter if you can’t sew or don’t have a CAD system, you save these as an insurance policy. If it all goes south, you’ll only have to worry about having your last pattern made because you have all the others.

It is important to have this expectation built in from day one because the relationship is just lovely in the beginning. A real honeymoon. Service providers who can do the most damage are the ones who slowly gain your confidence. If you limit your exposure by expecting pattern delivery after invoice payment from the beginning, you’ll be able to manage a mess if it comes to that. So what messes are these?

Red flag: Not being billed for pattern work.

If you’re working with a provider who is doing everything from patterns to production, examine your invoices carefully. If you’re not billed for pattern work, you do not own those patterns and won’t get copies of them. This means the provider has you over a barrel and you will find it very expensive to move to another provider should need be. Unfortunately, needing to move to another service is more common than not because holding the customer hostage is a common problem associated with package services.

And you might think that you really love your provider and you don’t want to compromise the relationship -all I can say is that if asking for your pattern files would create a roadblock in your relationship, this is not a long term relationship you want. And if it’s not long term, you should know sooner rather than later so you can develop an exit strategy.

Now there are caveats of course…  but first I need to digress a moment because … well… too many people fail to realize just how important this is.

If you’re new to the business, you’re focused on a finished product outcome. Your perspective is that you hired someone to deliver X number of pants or dresses in however many sizes. Of course you know that you need a pattern but with a longer focal point of finished product outcome, the pattern is just so much flotsam, something that happens along the way -at best, a benchmark- but not as important as the outcome of deliverables. What I would like you to understand is that patterns are an outcome, they are a deliverable.  With patterns, you can switch horses need be. And I know that you don’t want to do that because it was difficult enough to get what you got.

Let’s pretend you wanted a house built, you can work it one of two ways. Either you start with an architect or licensed contract builder. If you find an architect first, get referrals from him or her for builders right away (don’t wait). Interviewing referred builders (and checking their credentials) is a way of vetting the architect; that the architect has relationships and experience because others have built from his or her plans. If you start with builders, you get referrals for architects. If this were my house, I would have it written into the contract that I would own the blueprints after I paid for them and take delivery of a copy of the plans. This way if the builder went out of business, I could still go to another builder. It is also possible I might have to move to another part of the country so I’d need another builder. If this happened, I would probably need new plans which would be specific to the new building site and of course, local regulations. However, if I still wanted my house to be like the plans I’d had made, the existing plans would give the new architect/builder a lot to go on.  This is how patterns work; they make the work process portable. And isn’t flexibility what it’s all about these days? Why get locked in? If someone wants to lock you in… need something more be said?

Moving on, here are some caveats:

Caveat #1: Chances are excellent you won’t get the patterns before you pay but at the start of your working relationship, mention you will expect them after payment.  This means you get patterns after each milestone. First milestone is the first pattern and every version thereafter. If patterns are graded, you get those files too. Note: some not-nice providers will want to send you a plot or illustrator file instead of the graded pattern files but I think that is slimey. I’ll explain more at close.

Caveat #2: The nature of the relationship. If the provider is only doing pattern work, you need the patterns dropped in the mail or the electronic file emailed to you after you’ve paid your invoice.

Caveat #3a: The medium matters. If your patterns were made by hand on tag board, ask for tracings to be mailed to you (if the job is ongoing) or available for pick up. If your patterns are CAD, you should get files by email.

Caveat #3b  If your patterns were made by computer, it is not reasonable to expect hard copy (oak tag) patterns for all your styles in all sizes –ever! Or, at least, don’t expect those deliverables at no additional cost. The reason is that the cost of making and grading patterns by computer is usually less than having patterns made manually. Meaning, if you’re paying a lower cost for CAD pattern services but then at delivery, are expecting the deliverables to be the higher costing oak tag patterns, well, go fish. I had a customer who expected this. However, if digital files aren’t useful for you, you can request that your provider make copies in oak tag for an additional fee. If your provider can’t, it doesn’t mean they are bad; some providers are too busy plotting markers for other customer’s production that they can’t. Rather, they’ll send you a digital file and with that, you can hire someone else to make the oak tag patterns if you need those.

Caveat #3c: Unless you have CAD software, you won’t be able to open and view the digital files. You can buy software for $8,000 or so. I realize that not being able to use those files may leave you feeling a bit helpless but you’re much better off because another provider can use them to recreate your jobs.

Damage control: If you suspect your working relationships are problematic or are worried about changing the nature of your working relationship by requesting pattern files, there are a few things you can do. The most important thing you can do is to request that whoever does your cutting, saves the pattern pieces from the marker (this is also in the book I wrote). I’m telling you, I just can’t convey how important this is. If your relationships sour, you can re-digitize the pattern pieces left over from cutting. And yeah, the pieces may not be perfect but it’s a darn sight closer than nothing. And sure, having to have those patterns recreated isn’t an expense you should have to bear but it costs a lot less and takes much less time than starting over from scratch.

If you need an excuse to get the pattern pieces cut from the marker, tell your contact that you have a buyer who is considering buying a lot of your stuff and sticking it in their catalog (implying they’ll take you to the next level).  Tell them it is a private label buyer from one of the department stores (Penney’s is a good bet no matter how much it doesn’t impress you).  Large buyers (like Penney’s) often want to measure pattern pieces and compare them to the finished product to see how consistent your production lots are. Since the contractor may hope to get the larger contract, it might work. Don’t spoil it all by promising you’ll hear back from the buyer soon; their timelines are often months off, just assure your contact you want to get rolling on it so you can line up materials etc.


Why it is slimey to only get a plot file:  Essentially, having to use a plot file to get a working set of patterns will cost you money that you shouldn’t have to pay.  You will have to have someone plot it for you. FedEx copy centers do that but it will cost a small fortune, maybe several hundred dollars. A marking service will do it for less so try there first. Then the patterns will have to be re-digitized because you can’t pull attributes of the patterns from the marker (plot file). Then they will have to be re-graded even if your pattern was already graded. All that said, a plot file is better than nothing. If all you have is a plot file and a spreadsheet with your grade rules, you are still much better off than someone who has nothing.

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  1. Dara says:

    The designer should be able to view (not necessarily edit) the files regardless of the software, a simple google search will turn up a free viewing software program for whichever of the dozen or so popular design programs you currently. This is normally built specifically into the system for sales people to show to prospective clients. The most popular one we use, Gerber, has an export into dwg function for viewing which most people find easy to use. You can download the free viewer from autocad here: I like theirs because it is compatible with most smartphones/iPads so busy clients can normally view it on the run. The office I work in always bills patterns separately from production runs and sends a final copy to clients. Don’t know if this is common or not in the industry.

  2. Susan Wright says:

    I’m not a manufacturer but I have just gone through the process of creating a custom torso pattern that fits me the way I like. That pattern represents hours and hours of work and is far more valuable to me than anything I will ever create using it. I plan to make a copy to keep off-site in case something happens to the original. Actually that last point is something to add to this discussion. Having a single copy of anything of value is risky. An off-site backup is low-cost insurance.

  3. Susan Wright says:

    (I was sure I posted this already but it seems to have disappeared so I’m trying again.)
    Even as a non-professional, this makes sense to me. I just finished developing a custom torso pattern that fits me the way I like that represents hours and hours of effort. That pattern is more valuable to me than any garment I will ever produce using it. Therefore I plan to make a backup copy to keep off-site (in my desk drawer at work).

    This is low-cost insurance and when you do receive your patterns, in whatever form, it is an extra safety measure to make a backup to be kept in a different location. Just in case …

  4. Janelle says:

    This is my new favorite website since… Pinterest and Facebook. Rock on. Thanks. I think I’ll be reading for days until my eyes grow sore.

  5. Sarah_H. says:

    Even if you are the patternmaker, you can still learn this the hard way. I gave hard patterns to someone to digitize and make a marker for me, and neglected to get them back. (Not underhandedness on their part, stupidity on mine.) Now my CAD program is down, probably kaput, and I no longer have a copy of those patterns. I will have to go back several versions to recreate them and then, yes, have them digitized again.

  6. Theresa says:

    Just went through this with someone. Had hard patterns digitized and markers made. Up front we discussed having the digital files provided to me upon completion. Went to pick up markers, was handed invoice. Had to pay in order to have markers, but no digital files available when I asked about them. Was assured they would be emailed to me. Months and several requests later still no digital files. Keep getting promised I’ll get them, but nothing. Funny thing is, I can’t think of a motive for why they wouldn’t provide them to me after I paid for them. So it puzzles me. But it’s looking like I’m going to have to find someone else to re-digitize these patterns. At least I still have the hard patterns. But I spent hundreds of dollars for digitized pattern files I don’t have. This was done by a supposed ‘professional” in the industry.

  7. Michael Cerny says:

    Going through this right now with a local firm. Having to inventory what they have, figure out how to get what they don’t, and try to figure out what its going to cost to have everything re-digitized.

    A corollary to this post is that if you have your patterns in electronic format, always make sure that they are securely backed up somewhere – preferably offsite.

  8. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

    “Unless you have CAD software, you won’t be able to open and view the digital files.”

    There are “viewers”, often free, for most CAD files that let you open a file and examine it. You can’t edit the file, and often can’t print it, but you can get a peek up the kilt.

    And in a pinch, you find someone who has the $$$$ software to olpen it and print it or save as a different format.

    I started working with CAD files in the very early 80s and formats were ALREADY a problem

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