Last week I wrote about the pragmatic “Technical Journal” formerly published by Bobbin Magazine. I didn’t get much feedback in response to the index of articles (pdf) I compiled which was a little disappointing considering all of the work it took to put it together. Complain complain, I know. Still, a few of the responses mentioned Evaluating the Pattern Grading Process as being of interest which is what I’m writing about now. The article consists of responses to seven questions. I thought to do this in one fell swoop but decided against it once I realized that some items will need more discussion and weight than was given in the original material. First I’ll include all of the questions and then go back and address each in turn as some get a little sticky. Then again, if nobody responds, I’ll just let it go.
- Have you converted your pattern grading from a manual operation to a computer grading operation?
- Does your grade rule library consist of an unusually high number of grade rules, many that you may have used only once?
- Are you satisfied with the time period that is required from the time the grader receives the sample pattern until the final approval for production is given?
- Are you grading properly or have your methods been handed down and modified from one grader to another until the grading process has become a “guess again” situation?
- Are your production people free to make suggestions on changes that would aid them in production?
- Do you have documented procedures that are followed with every pattern that goes through grading?
- After I’ve evaluated the situation and want to straighten it out, to whom should I return for professional advice?
1. Have you converted your pattern grading from a manual operation to a computer grading operation?
The article’s author (Thomas R. Jones) first cites the common strategy of managers who think that throwing money at the problem (investing in a CAD system) can fix the problems but correctly states that this couldn’t be more wrong. A CAD system simply permits faster implementation of your practices. A CAD system is not a solution if the manual standards and system you were using before are not sound. A CAD system “will will just allow the damage that was being done to be done in less time”.
To that I’d add that assuming mistakes are made, the faster cycle time of CAD systems provide opportunities to spot errors and inconsistencies much earlier and sooner. Time that previously would have been spent with manual grading can now be invested in correcting the problems. Previously, it is common that several (if not all) pieces are graded erringly before the mistake is discovered. This way, time is spent on the correction rather than the manifestation and creation of the error before it can be corrected. Lastly, having access to computerized grading services isn’t limited to those with CAD systems anymore. Anyone can derive the benefits by using a service.
2. Does your grade rule library consist of an unusually high number of grade rules, many that you may have used only once?
The author writes:
This condition will make itself known if you are continually refining rules as you receive new patterns. Try not to reinvent the wheel every time. Standardize, simplify and document procedures when you can. An unusually high number of rules can be the result of a large number of styling variations (raglan, dolman, fitted, non-fitted). This situation may also occur if you have product lines that require fitted and non-fitted size ranges (SML vs 8,10,12)
I concur with this in some respects although I’d object to the idea that designers should limit their creativity to templated styles in the interests of making grading easier. Even among product lines with a lot of styling changes (the aforementioned dolman, raglan etc), there are grading standards that can be brought to bear. Where I see DEs making mistakes is in what I call vicarious sizing; they routinely switch between SML versus numbered sizing. It is less expensive to grade in SML, so if a designer’s signature styling lends itself to that, then that’s great. Higher priced product lines with more fitted styles may not have that option. Regardless, I think a designer should select one or the other sizing strategy based on their silouhettes until such time that their line matures and they see fit to expand their offerings.
3. Are you satisfied with the time period that is required from the time the grader receives the sample pattern until the final approval for production is given?
The author mentions a turnaround time of one week but this assumes you’re doing everything in house. He says that your people must have the right equipment (dress forms, sewing equipment, rulers, curves, tables). He also mentions a facet profoundly ignored these days “if you’re not sewing the graded garments on site, you are likely to lose valuable input from production people as well as those days and dollars it takes to ship the patterns back and forth”. These days, delays are often unavoidable for DEs and multi-national alike. Generally the point is made that the more integrated and closer you can have your product development, the better and faster it will be.
4. Are you grading properly or have your methods been handed down and modified from one grader to another until the grading process has become a “guess again” situation?
Other than the obvious -the lack of standardization and documentation of in-house grading standards, the author wrote some disparate ideas (competitive foreign challenges, the costs of training, modernization) but I give those lesser weight than the immediate. The reality is, people will come into your system and both of you will have expectations of guidelines. You will have expectations and they will need parameters. This usually means they will be using a legacy system that preceded them, no matter how poorly formed, upon which to render work. Now, as someone coming into the system, unless you’ve given them carte-blanch to change things, they will be using precedent standards which won’t necessarily be a good thing. As is often the case (because designers start off poor and hire what talent they can afford) these legacy standards may need revising. Even then, it is possible you’d be guilty of a bad hire, someone who’s sold you on their ability to do the job when they’re largely unskilled and so, change the standards to meet their limited knowledge. It’s a tough situation.
This last topic is something I think bears some discussion. If there is any interest, we can flesh it out in comments or I can include it in part two (questions 5-7) depending on the response.