Giving instructions to a pattern grader

The kinds of instructions you give a pattern grader is an issue I’ve been grappling with over the past ten days or so. Contrary to my usual practices, I agreed to grade some patterns for an active member of our forum. Typically I don’t work for visitors to the site for myriad reasons (in part I think it’s a conflict of interest). The client and I jointly decided I should write some guidelines to smooth the way for anyone else having similar issues in the future. I think I will write it in three parts; instructions for people who don’t make patterns, instructions for people who do make patterns but don’t grade and lastly, the information that one pattern grader would give to another if they were too busy to do the job themselves but wanted to ensure it was done to their specifications. Over all, I was/am very hesitant to write about it (again) for a couple reasons but the primary one being that I didn’t want people to get the idea that pattern grading is hard. It really isn’t. It’s formulaic in ways that pattern making will never be. Likewise, it should not be costly.

The most important thing for everyone, expert pattern maker and newbie alike, is to not fake it. Don’t pretend to know something you don’t. The issue is not that someone will take advantage of you (the reason for faking it) or that someone will think you don’t know anything so you’ve got some ego at stake, it’s that if you fake it well enough, we’ll believe you and you’ll end up with big problems. Or, the service provider will pass because they can’t discern what you do or don’t know or don’t have confidence in your specifications. I realize that if you know something about pattern making and grading, it’s hard to know whether you’re providing enough information, or too much information (although you should be commended for your diligence). Or, you end up doing too much unnecessary work that ends up complicating matters. For now, let’s start with the most typical scenario, a designer who doesn’t make patterns or lacks the practice or confidence and hires it out.

A guide to providing grading information for newbies:
Your grader will want to know what your “grade” is (also see this). This is usually expressed in inches. You’d say you want a one inch grade or a two inch grade etc.

A one or two inch “grade” is kind of a slang term meaning much more but it specifically refers to the total amount a size will increase in girth from one size to the next. Now, as Megan mentioned yesterday, don’t have the idea that sizes don’t also grow in length because they do. A formulaic “one inch (girth) grade” will also include lengthwise size increases. The lengthwise grows depend on your product line and are fairly standard (being a formula) but even one inch grade formulas vary -say with kid’s wear as compared to adults. Kids will grow a lot more in length per size than adults do. If you don’t know, always ask for their suggestions. Be advised that at this point, they may want to know your price points or who you hope to compete with in the marketplace.

If you don’t know what the grade should be, say so. The grader will still need an idea though. Before now you should have done market research by comparing your competitors products (pt. 2) to know which product lines reflect the sizing you want to follow. You cannot expect the grader to know which those products are or have them handy. You should provide sample garments for comparison. If you’re using a sizing chart you found somewhere, provide that.

By the way, using a competitor’s products is not cheating. Not to say they’d like it if they knew you were doing it of course. The reason is, retailers have the expectation that products in a given niche and across similar price points, will be sized similar to competitors products. If they find that your size tens are sized too differently from the size tens of a competing brand, they might not continue to buy them. This also annoys consumers. They expect given sizes to be roughly commensurate across brands.

Now, for most starting designers, either stipulating a one or two inch grade is good enough but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask the grader about their formulas. This is not top secret information; ask what the grows are in each direction -and where- if you want to go off and do some more market research for comparison. Again, if you don’t know, you can substitute products for comparison; the grades can be pulled from those.

Next time I’ll explain how a pattern maker can convey grading information to the pattern grader.

Giving instructions to a pattern grader pt.2
Giving instructions to a pattern grader pt.3

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