Bizarre pattern maker

Laura writes:

I have been reading your book and am enjoying it and learning a lot. As I mentioned, I am using knits. Well, my pattern maker said it would be best to have material pre-washed before cut and sew and made the patterns according to that. The option would be to readjust the pattern according to shrinkage due to washing after cut and sew, but he said it wasn’t a good idea- possibly not having a good fit. Well I did what he said. I cut 10 yard pieces and washed them in my washing machine. Then, the first roll, I cut at a friend’s warehouse who makes umbrellas. Three of us spread the cut pieces, 12ply and cut with electric cutters. It seemed to work alright, I haven’t sewn them yet.

But I’m sure this is not the way it’s done. I am meeting with a professional cutter today and he won’t cut it that way and said to get it washed and put back on the roll, but my amount is so small that it will be hard to find someone to do this not to mention the extra cost( I have no idea what). What would you have done as far as patterns? Am I doing this the hard way? Are most patterns made to readjust after shrink factor? This seems so inefficient, not to mention there is about 6 inches of space between each size on the marker.

I spoke with Laura by phone and I’m left perplexed. Things are definitely not done the way that this pattern maker did it. Unfortunately, she hadn’t gotten to that part in the book yet, before this particular job had been started. In the book I show how to test and measure shrinkage as well as how to cut a pattern for shrinkage (starting on pg. 159) assuming you’re making your own patterns or need to check the work of others. If you’re going to a professional service, it is standard that they’ll cut the pattern to allow for shrinkage. In fact, this is one of the reasons CAD systems are so useful because they make these corrections so easily. Of course you’ll have to calculate the percentage of shrinkage and provide that information to them but Laura assures me she did this. I quizzed her on her pattern maker’s set up -he has a CAD system- and has been doing this for years so I cannot imagine why he did her job this way.

Laura said that the marker he made ran 10 yards which is why she cut the length of goods to that measure. However, when she took the marker to her cutter, the cutter cut the marker apart (recalling the 6″ of space between each size) and shortened the marker to only seven yards. That leaves 3 yards of excess in each lay. Since the cutter was apparently professional, I’m assuming he could have done a stepped spread to recover some of the losses. Still, there had to be inefficiencies that wouldn’t have been there had the thing been made correctly from the get go.

Oh, and that reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to tell you for a long time. Cutters are particular. It is best -best mind you- to get a referral for the making of your marker from your cutter. If you can. A cutter is the best judge of a marker maker’s skill. Unfortunately, because cutting comes after marker making, people often make this mistake -and who would know to do it any other way? It really is counterintuitive but so is most of my advice. I found out the hard way myself. I took a marker into a cutter once and he took one look at it and threw up his hands. He said to never use that marker maker (who had 20 years in the business by the way) because you could drive a truck through his markers. People often assume that pattern pieces are butted up against each other because we’re cheap and want to save money on fabric, but that’s a very small part of it! Cutting accuracy is greatly enhanced if pieces share cut lines (see the top of pg 115). Cutting is faster and more accurate with well-made tight markers. Otherwise, loose edges can splay and spread on subsequent passes depending on the fabric and the number of plies.

In short, you have to backtrack in the process to get the right referrals. A contractor will know which pattern makers make good quality production patterns. Fit and design translation is another thing entirely; you’ll have to find one that does both well. Fortunately, good production pattern makers are also good at that sort of thing. If a pattern maker can only do the ideation part well, they’re not very good. Then, you also have to get a referral from the contractor for the cutter (assuming they’re not doing their own cutting). From the cutter, you need to get a referral for the marker maker. However, if you use an established service -admittedly as Laura did- you’ll have few problems.

Judging from how Laura described this pattern maker’s operation and length of time working in the business, he has to be legitimate (his patterns are good quality, they fit and sew together well). Still, I’m at a loss to understand how a professional could have done something like this. It’s bizarre. There were a couple of other things he did which are too complex to describe here so it leaves me wondering if the guy has early onset dementia (he’s in his late 50’s). Another tip off is that he’s charging her ridiculously low prices, equivalent to what you’d expect to pay twenty or thirty years ago (which is a good thing since her patterns will all have to be remade). With so many of the good pattern makers being older -some are quite elderly- dementia wouldn’t be so far fetched. I’m just floored at her story. Have any of you ever heard of such a thing? I’ve heard plenty of these kinds of stories about home sewing pattern makers who think they know enough to pick up small industry jobs (for DEs who know even less than they do) but nothing like this from an industry person. Have you ever heard such a thing? This is just too bizarre.

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  1. Robyn says:

    I have never heard of this, and I’ve been doing this for over 20 years also. Can you imagine trying to wash a large roll of knit fabric and then put it back straight on the roll so that it will come off straight on the spreading machine. Your spreader would be cussing you, not just the cutter. Most knits are not washed before they go to the consumer, so the designer needs to decide how it is to fit, if the fabric has alot of shrinkage they might need to put a disclaimer on the garment that the fabric shrinks so the consumer might need to buy it a little big to allow for shrinkage. Most people don’t think about this and when trying on if it is a little big they go to a smaller size. Performance knits (polyesters) don’t shrink alot, but cotton ones do. If your garments are to be washed before they go to the consumer, then a good patternmaker should be able to add the shrinkage correctly without your garment being distorted, as long as the laundry is consistant in its temp and pressing. I’ve seen many a knit garment messed up in pressing, making it twisted and even shrink more if the pressers are too hot.

    Markers should always be made to be the most efficient use of fabric, since that is the most costly part of your garment. I have never seen ones made with spaces between the sizes, infact really good markers will have the sizes mixed in the markers to put the largest with the smallest to get the best efficiency.

  2. Kathleen says:

    I have never seen ones made with spaces between the sizes, infact really good markers will have the sizes mixed in the markers to put the largest with the smallest to get the best efficiency.

    See, that’s the other thing that was bugging me (I didn’t know where to draw the line on explaining everything he was doing wrong). There is no way that in real life, all the pieces from a given size are grouped together. All the sizes are mixed in together. The only time I’ve ever seen a print out that she describes, is when the print out is being used to staple down to oak tag to make hard patterns. Maybe he thought she wanted to make hard patterns, not realizing she wanted a marker? None of this makes sense.

  3. Big Irv says:

    My two cents.
    I have clients that purchase fabric from knit mills and directly send it to companies that wash or preshrink it. The rolls of fabric are usually returned in a very uniform manner, very neatly re-rolled. In most cases, a shrinkage % report is attached to each roll. Tubular or open width.
    This usually costs between 35-45 cents yd, for a cold water wash, light tumble dry, no additives or softeners (extra).

    Why do clients take these extra steps of prewashing fabrics ? Consumers cry foul when a 31″ inseam becomes a 28″inseam after the first laundering. In most cases, an additional hangtag or sticker informs the purchaser the garment has been preshrunk. For the record, I see this done most often on cotton blends, but our textile washing service does lots of synthetic material too. I have one client in the Chicago area that washes everything. Knit, woven, wool,gabs, polyrayons.Everything. It’s their thing.Their signature.

    On the marker situation, I agree with Kathleen.He most likely printed off a copy of her graded pattern, expecting a transfer to oak tag. True markers have pieces/sizes all over the place. Did she specify what type of fabric ?. Sometimes a marker is made with fabric shrink characteristics in mind, and he just went overboard.

  4. Laura says:

    “I have clients that purchase fabric from knit mills and directly send it to companies that wash or preshrink it. The rolls of fabric are usually returned in a very uniform manner, very neatly re-rolled.”

    That could save me from having new patterns made for now. What are these companies called?
    I’ve been looking online but even don’t know what to search for. Someone here in Miami told me she knows someone but said they have a 2 roll minimum and it would cost $200. 35-45 cents I would definitely do it. It does shrink alot.

  5. J C Sprowls says:

    Big Irv said:
    I have one client in the Chicago area that washes everything. Knit, woven, wool,gabs, polyrayons.Everything. It’s their thing.Their signature.

    I’m so glad you mention this, Irv. I was trying to make a decsion re: this requirement for my concept, too. But do these laundry services also “grain” and inspect the fabric, too?

  6. Oxanna says:

    This is a definite topic of interest to me – not the marker making so much as the preshrinking. I would second JC Sprowl’s question of whether these companies inspect the fabric as well as roll them. I am a prospective DE, and one of the things that irks me as a customer is clothing you can’t wash without having it shrink. Therefore, I had highly considered having any shrinkable fabric prewashed. I’d love to see more on this topic if possible.

  7. big Irv says:

    You can have fabric washed or preshrunk at a few different sources. Some companies that operate as dyehouses will do this as an ancillary service as they already have the neccessary equipment in place. Some services just do the washing. Of course your knowledgable fabric sales rep should know of local companies doing this.
    JC, I am not sure whether these laundering companies inspect the fabric or not.
    I have always thought it was the contractors responsibilty of inspecting and “graining” the fabric. Stretch velvet is a prime example of this.
    I also know that most wash houses use only cold water for colorfastness reasons. The extra charges for additives or softeners aren’t neccessarily for the Fleecy, but for set up and doing water changes.
    Never heard of anyone sending cloth to the dry cleaners though. On hangers, no starch ?

  8. graham says:

    There are wash houses in Turkey that will grade fabric, but it is not usual. Also, responsibility of inspecting and (thanks for the word irv) graining the fabric is of course the contractors.

  9. laurie says:

    Markers aren’t always mixed sizes- in a better garment being cut to order you will very often make single size markers. However, often you can group 2 sizes that get similar quantity orders on one marker to get a better yield. (Buyers tend to buy 2-4-4-2 etc…) You can also make a double marker for one size or an A+B marker to increase efficiency without cutting more than one size at a time. Lots of variables.

  10. Kathleen says:

    in a better garment being cut to order you will very often make single size markers

    I do not doubt that you’ve seen this in practice (although I never have with the exception noted below but nothing surprises me anymore) but I deny that waste is a necessary by product required to render a quality result. I think it more likely they were using single size markers because the garment was “being cut to order”, but not because it is “better”.

    The kind of markers you’re describing, are markers made for really short tables but we were talking about Laura’s problem and she was using service professionals with real tables and needed the markers appropriate to the spread. If a DE has an 8 foot table and is doing their own cutting, I’m sure they cut to size to order because it is easier for them to manage but one should not confuse the design of their spread -which is owing to the length of their table- as superior or more prevalent to mixing sizes in a longer marker. This is why the length of your contractor’s cutting table matters (as I say repeatedly in the book). If the table they say is their cutting table is only 8 feet long, they’re not a professional contractor.

    then Graham says:
    responsibility of inspecting and … graining the fabric is of course the contractors.

    Personally, I’d never assume that the responsibility rests with “of course the contractors”. It is only the contractor’s if you have stipulated such in the work order. It costs extra, takes extra time, another body and special equipment. You’ll get inspection if you contract and pay for it. A decent processor should include that in the work order (and the cost of it is built into the job) but don’t assume that every contractor will. It is always best to assume nothing!

    I think people are losing sight of the fact that prewashing goods in large quantities is quite rare, particularly for small companies. Sure, ideally goods are preshrunk before cutting but that’s not an option for most manufacturers of even much larger size than the average DE (200-300 stitchers). Rather, goods that shrink a lot should have the patterns cut with the shrinkage factored in. Once the items are cut and sewn, they need to be sent out for laundering before the items are shipped to stores. Just because you’re using fabrics with high shrinkage does not mean your customers should find that out after the fact. That’s your job.

    A lot of wash houses only want to use cold water processing and I can see why but I think it’s pretty useless. If you have to pay 40-45 cents a yard to preshrink fabric and they’re using cold water, they won’t get even half of what the stuff will shrink up to. I worked a lot with wools and have rarely been pleased with the results of sponged goods. Sponged wools can cost up to 25% more but are supposedly pre-shrunk. Sprinkling cold water on the goods and letting it rest only works if you never iron the stuff. In school, in tailoring class they teach you to sponge your wools by wrapping your yardage up in a wet sheet. It’s a lot of work and time. In real life, it doesn’t work. It took me too many years to figure out what a waste of time and effort that was. My thinking was, if it’s so much work and time, it must be good. It wasn’t. Better results can be had by steaming. -or going back to the old traditional way- cutting with the shrinkage margin inherent in the patterns to begin with.

    Besides, I am very nervous when I hear about wet goods being wound or taken up. Just how do you think goods are torqued? The machine can be the slightest bit off and you’ll never know! A visual inspection of the equipment won’t work. An engineer needs to calibrate it. Wet processing is very small margin; very few operators (any?) have all the engineers they need. Personally, I prefer to shrink it myself once it’s been stabilized into a garment and have the thing meld together. If you can’t design a garment to withstand the rigors of shrinkage before it gets to the customer, you can’t expect your clothing to have the value of endurance either.

  11. Alison Cummins says:


    I think this is a great illustration of the difference between home-sewing and production sewing. A home-sewer preshrinks all the goods because there is only one garment and it is fit to the wearer as it is being made. The issues of fabric handling are not as great either because smaller pieces are being used. So this is a difference that needs to be made explicit to someone starting as a home-sewer and is moving into production.

    So cool!

  12. Big Irv says:

    Kathleen makes good point on the contractor’s responsiblity of inspecting fabrics. Good processors do it out of habit, and I suppose then a cost has been built in. In order to protect yourself, you should then specify a visual inspection of the cloth for any flaws or defects, and denote it on your PO (or work order, cut ticket etc..) You should be notified immediately of any problems. Try to get back to the contactor quickly as well. Your material is sitting on cutting the table, in a holding pattern until you figure out a plan.(to cut or not to cut).

  13. beth says:

    new here, prospective DE. what i’ve been doing is low tech: sewing a 5″ square, then washing to see what happens. If it shrinks alot (for me, that’s 1/4″ per 5″) then it’s going to be dry clean only and that’s what’s going on the care tag. but only after i have the fabric test dry cleaned for fading. if it only shrinks slightly, then i would put a warning on the hang tag to buy a slightly larger size and not prewash. if it isn’t a peice that can be reasonably asked to dry clean and it shrinks alot then i’ll need to have the fabric washed (if it doesn’t shrink so much it distorts) somewhere…. anyone know of a place in the portland, or area?

  14. big Irv says:

    You cannot achieve accurate shrinkage results from a square of cloth 5″. You need to use AT LEAST 1 square/yd of material to properly measure shrinkage. And if using AATC guidelines, you may consider doing the test two or three times ,each with another different piece of fabric.

  15. Rocio says:

    Hi Everyone!

    These are 4 simple rules that I follow when testing shrinkage on fabrics:

    1) I cut my 10″ X 10″ square piece to send out for the FIRST SHRIKAGE TEST for the FIRST PATTERN
    2) When it comes back, two possible scenarios happen:
    2A) IF THE GARMENT IS MEANT TO BE STONE WASH we add the shrinkage to the pattern, sew a sampe and send it to be washed
    2B) IF THE GARMENT IS NOT MEANT TO BE WASHED and the shrinkage test results in 5% or more, we try to talk the designer out of using it because the garments will look too big, and even if people don’t mind so much and buy it….. In their minds it will be “just another cheap garment” when they wash it and it shrinks 2″
    3)If the garment calls for some sort of wash treatment and we go into production, we send out one swatch from every roll.
    4)When it comes to markers… we run a test mini-marker (we work on cad) and aim for a minimum of 90% efficiency
    If the marker comes with lower efficiency we look at the pieces and make change suggestions to the client to get a better fabric usage :-)

    I agree with Alison about the main difference between home sewers and commercial manufacturers…
    In regards to fabric inspection… for CMT it is the DE’s responsibility to inspect the fabric…. for FINISHED PRODUCT it is the vendor’s.

    Kathleen… Just out of curiosity…. I have never had a US client mention that they follow ISO 9001 – 2000 standards (let alone be certified) … Is it not common practice in the USA industry?

    Great post!


  16. Manohar says:

    The above definition is very useful to me, because i am working as QA in a buying house in India.
    I want to learn more in shrinkage fomula Woven and Knit fabric pls send me more to me as an advantage of my job.


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