Evaluating the Pattern Grading Process pt.2

Whew, what a day! I’ve usually posted well before now. Too many errands, doctor visits and flat tires so excuse my tardiness. Luckily, I had two knights in shining armor (young enough to know what blogging is) who came to my aid. Thanks guys (if you need a Realtor in Las Cruces, consider Alex Johnson).

If you’re not sure what this entry is about, see part one. If that still doesn’t answer your questions, see this entry and nominate topics you’d like to see here (please remember to cite the date of the article too). The original table of contents is here. Moving forward with part two of this topic you selected, these three questions are left:

5. Are your production people free to make suggestions on changes that would aid them in production?

6. Do you have documented procedures that are followed with every pattern that goes through grading?

7. After I’ve evaluated the situation and want to straighten it out, to whom should I return for professional advice?

5. Are your production people free to make suggestions on changes that would aid them in production?
The author says:

A question like this can cause even the most open minded designers to cringe. A good example of this in cutting would be if the side seams on the front and back of a garment could be pitched at the same angle to create a common line for cutting. In sewing, a notch might be added to accommodate a sewing operator or a serged blind hem on a sleeve might be changed to a single needle rolled hem to save money in garment construction. All reasonable changes should be considered. However all final decision should be made by the designer because they should not be asked to compromise a design feature for the sake of aiding production on a garment that won’t sell.

I understand and agree with the gist of his response and I’m not trying to be argumentative but is he saying that the “cutting…the side seams on the front and back of a garment…be pitched at the same angle” is an example of a good change or is it a good example of what would make a designer cringe? It’d definitely make me cringe. Of course it depends on the styling of a garment but I don’t know how the idea that the pitching of seams should match, has become institutionalized. You see that everywhere these days. I don’t want to get too far off topic but this recent email (edited) says:

I have been doing some patterns based on a book by Natalie Bray. I made a bodice and it fit surprisingly well. I have a question about her side seams. Her front and back side seams have different shapes. The back is concave and the front is convex even slightly “bubbly” at bust level so it involves some easing. This makes perfect sense to me since the body needs more shaping and fabric in front and more fitting in the back. However, as you know, the current pattern-making books stress that the side seams should be absolutely the same shape. Is it because it’s easier to sew in mass production?

I don’t agree easing should be involved, convex or concave, the seam lengths should match. The point is, the day the front of your body is shaped like the back of your body is the day those side seams will match in shaping although few makers are making garments of this nuance. I think -and as this post should illustrate- the real issue here is that matching the pitch of side seams makes it easier to cut. Many changes are made for cutting, not sewing. Assuming seam lengths match, the sewing is not an issue.

Returning to the author’s original question (Are your production people free to make suggestions on changes that would aid them in production?), most of the designers I run into these days don’t argue much over suggestions I give them. If anything, they’ll explain the reasoning of why they’re doing it a certain way (usually quite rational) but they are usually wanting suggestions for improvement. Of course, one still runs into the occasional “couture” prima donna sewing aficionado (no offense intended, you know people like this) but not many of them manage to make a go of it to be in a position to need to listen to production people who have suggestions.

6. Do you have documented procedures that are followed with every pattern that goes through grading?
The author says:

As a pattern enters the grading room, certain tasks should be performed prior to the grading process. Its arrival should be logged as part of a permanent record for future reference. The side seams should be checked for equal length. Patterns should be checked against preliminary specifications and these should be cross referenced against a garment made by the pattern room from the sample pattern.

Then the pattern must be checked for special grading conditions. These are stipulations that have been made by the pattern maker due to purchased yokes, positioning of appliqués or some sort of design feature.

When everything has been considered and actual grading is about to begin, the grader must have reference manuals that specify the company’s grading standards. These standards must be broken down according to which body position it applies (ex.: garment length=1″ per graded size; or bust circumference=3″ per graded size). If your company doesn’t have these written standards, your graders are being handicapped by general misinformation.

I certainly agree that there needs to be standardized processes as I’ve described ad nauseum before. While it would have been remiss for this author to have failed to mention the need of pattern checking, the pattern checking should happen well before it ever gets to the pattern grader. Just as a pattern maker cannot change a detail without a designer’s approval, a pattern grader cannot change a detail without getting the pattern maker’s approval. Besides, pattern checking isn’t their job. Pattern grading is not pattern making. Ideally a pattern grader would know something about pattern making but they often don’t so why would you expect someone who can’t make patterns to correct yours? If it’s a simple style and a matter of length, fine, but they shouldn’t have to do it.

The author also mentions the need of a standardized sizing profile for the company. This varies a great deal and it is constantly evolving and changing according to market conditions. As a young company, you don’t know hard numbers at the outset, you can’t, it depends on who ends up buying your stuff. Who you envision buying your stuff and who actually does are two different things. As you go along, you may have to adjust your sizing. When you’re first starting out, you may not really know either, that’s why a lot of people copy the apparent sizing strategies of the companies they’d like to compete with.

7. After I’ve evaluated the situation and want to straighten it out, to whom should I return for professional advice?
Remembering that this article is about gravitating toward the adoption of a CAD system, the author recommends hiring a student who’s had some training. In those days, those were the only people who had training. Some people were trained by the CAD companies but that was/is prohibitively expensive. Also, I don’t know that a student is the ideal choice, it depends. They may have more CAD experience than you but maybe not much grading experience so you’ll need to give them clear specifications and room to make mistakes and learn from it.

The author then launches into a twelve paragraph description of how to hire a consultant for in house training (the author is a grading consultant) and what to expect. The cost of $50,000 and a time period of 18 months is mentioned. I have no doubts that a large concern could reasonably expect to pay a similar rate adjusted for inflation but most of you don’t have that kind of money to pay for grade consulting so it’s a good thing you don’t need it.

Since your companies are young, I’d think the best guidance you could get would be from a grading company. However, do not let the cost of services be your guide. Some companies know you don’t know any better so they charge outrageous and ludicrous fees. I define “ludicrous and outrageous” as grading prices that are ten to twenty times the average going rate of industry professionals so for example, I wouldn’t use this company who charges over $100 per piece! It doesn’t cost that much to have the pattern made and pattern making costs a lot more than pattern grading. You’re better off going to a well respected company like Pattern Works (they grade and make patterns). There are also other reputable companies and independents out there. While most are set up primarily to provide grading services, there’s no reason they couldn’t spend an hour or two with you (for a fee) to discuss what you want to do. A word of caution to those who don’t have the Entrepreneur’s Guide, don’t cheap out. The minimum anyone is going to charge you is $100 an hour and it’d be pretty dumb to pay a consultant for stuff that’s printed in the book (and a whole lot more). Besides, how else will you know if they know anything? Don’t get bamboozled by somebody who knows slightly more than you but doesn’t really know anything themselves.

It may also be possible to get some training from a local school if you can afford the time off or hire the instructor for some one on one. Teachers never make enough so it could work out. Lastly, you could hire a pattern maker to advise you too but few if any of them will want to grade the patterns for you. Consult they’ll do but few enjoy grading. I’m not wild on it myself, it’s formulaic and I don’t have a CAD system. CAD is really a necessity when it comes to grading; it is well suited to the purpose and execution.

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  1. marissa v. says:

    As a DE, I use a grading specialist for all my grading. I am based in London, and the grading company I use is used by many designers – they are efficient, and charge only £9.75 per graded size for an item with 1-6 pieces. This is a good price (considering a latte at Starbucks is £2.95). Grading is the least stressful part of my production – problems only come when a manufacturer forgets to tell me that there is a problem with my initial pattern and I send it off to the graders without the adjustments.
    My only issue with using graders that I don’t have much contact with in combination with overworked production facilities is that I don’t get suggestions on how patterns can be cut better to conserve fabric according to the cutting plan. i.e. perhaps if I made a particular flare smaller by 1 inch it would fit better into the cutting plan. But these issues I find are quite difficult to resolve when fabric width may change and anyway I’m only producing 30-50 of each item!

  2. trish says:

    Amen to “teachers never make enough money!!”

    Kathleen, if you are able to come to the fashion show tonight, we would love to see you. Remember, it is at 9050 Viscount, off Hawkins. Show time looks like 7:30 or so… we serve at the pleasure of the president, LOL!!

    If anyone is in the El Paso, Texas area, I would love to work with DE’s on grading, patternmaking, etc.

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