How not to copy a pattern

Today I was looking for a pattern (to make a blanket coat for Ida) that I have somewhere on one of my racks and found this funny example of a pattern piece that I’d saved from way back when. I had no real reason to save it, I just thought it was funny (I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried). I’ve always wanted to show it to somebody -so now that I’m blogging, I guess that’s you.

I don’t have the complete pattern, just one piece of it. When you see it, you’ll agree that one piece is plenty although you might not find it as humorous as I do. Below is a picture of a pattern piece for the back lining of a jacket. What the “pattern maker” did, was to disassemble the jacket he (and it was a he, I knew him) was copying -only he didn’t take it all the way apart- and tape it to a piece of oaktag to make his own back lining pattern piece. As you see, the shaping of the back lining is very very interesting. It is rare that that much pattern design is put into a lining so I can only imagine what the shell pieces could have been like (the shell pieces were not taped to oak tag, they were long gone). I would have liked to see the original but this is how the knock off was rendered.

I find this hilarious. This was a largish DE operation, maybe 30 stitchers, run by this guy named Gus. I’d mention the name of the company but somebody else on the web is using it for their leather company and the two are unrelated. Maybe this won’t be a surprise to you but Gus went out of business about 4 years ago. Boy, did he make crap -but it sold! Bikers loved it, they couldn’t get enough of it. None of it was well made, patterns being the biggest problem as you can see. He had good stitchers too but there’s only so much they can do. I only saved the one piece but rest assured the other pieces were just as horrific. What Gus had told the “pattern maker” to do was take the thing apart to copy it. Only Gus is a real cheap skate and didn’t really see the point of paying for his guy to completely disassemble the thing to do the job properly so there was no way it could even begin to have the effect of the original. I really don’t know why he bothered. It’s baffling but surprisingly common. When people copy you, they often do shoddy copies. Don’t worry and let them dig their own graves, like Gus did. The reality is a lot of DE companies copy garments. It’s a big dirty secret. However, I have found that the biggest transgressors are the ones most likely to want somebody to sign a confidentiality agreement. I guess that’s so nobody will tell on them. I can’t figure out any other reason. That’s why if somebody wants me to sign one my first thought is what are they doing off color.

Here’s a picture of the flip side of the pattern. The style number is just scrawled haphazardly across the piece; the number to cut is circled but it’s written on top of the style number; very sloppy. I guess I should be glad they used a style number, a lot of DEs don’t even do that. That should be something to consider; as unprofessional as this company was, even they used style numbers and not names. Another good point is that the ink is blue so the color coding is correct. Then again, that could have been accidental. Maybe he wrote in blue ink on all of his pieces. Otherwise, there are no other identifying bits of information. That is not good. Use the standards in the book to correctly label your pieces.

Here is a minor/major pet peeve in pattern making: tape. Some pattern makers are rabid about this, they hate tape and think if anybody ever uses it, that they have an IQ of 19 points below plant life. Pattern makers don’t like tape because the tape dries up and the pieces fall apart so you lose whole sections of patterns. Me, I think it’s okay if you must do it for a fast correction but you should re cut the pattern as soon as you can. I’ve been known to tape up notches myself. I would never send work out with tape on it though. That’s considered lazy.

Just for grins and because I think the style lines of the original lining are cool, I took it apart so you can see the shaping of it.

Lastly, below you’ll see a comparison of the two patterns. In my opinion, the designer of the style on the left, had nothing to worry about based on the rendition of the copy on the right. I imagine that greater effort was made to copy the style lines of the shell from the original but there is no way it could have come close to fitting the same or having the same patina of quality as the original.

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  1. Irene says:

    Wow! This totally reassures me. If this guy can get work (though the company did go under. . .) then I don’t think I have much to worry about. I mean, at least I work on learning how to do things properly! Thanks for sharing that laugh!

  2. Laura says:

    If this is how people will copy my work, I have nothing to worry about. As long as MY NAME isn’t on it, that is, like some try to do with the big name companies…

  3. Jane says:

    The garment “Gus” knocked off must have been a relatively high-end garment in order for it to have that much construction put into the lining. Nowadays, most manufacturers would be looking to save $$$ by doing what your ‘patternmaker’ tried unsuccessfully to do. That is, cut down on the number of pieces it took to make the back lining.

    The whole taping oaktag issue is why, when I freelance, I like to do my first patterns on soft paper. There will be very little reason to correct on the oaktag because it is the final pattern. However, there may have been plenty of tape on the first go ’round on soft paper which I think is easier to work with. On soft paper, I can fold in my darts, pleats, hemlines, etc. and cut them with the correct amount of turnback.

    I do fill in a bad notch with a little ‘plug’ of notcher off-fall and tape it back in place with scotch tape.

    I find this to be the most efficient way for me to work, since recutting oaktag takes more time and it costs more too!

    Now the really efficient way to work is when I am at the office and use my computer. If I want a new copy, I just hit “plot” and voila a new pattern piece!

  4. jocole says:

    wow, i like copying patterns just for fun and see how close i can get (of course for personal use, not for my business) i would never imagine doing it like gus. wow, i’m stunned

  5. Trish says:

    I have been having a great laugh with you. When I looked at the first picture I just started to chuckle.

    When people THINK they KNOW things, they can be so funny. Since I teach, I get to see people AS they learn. Often the people who know the very least THINK they know the most, more than any of us (for example.)

    How anyone could look at that pattern and get the oak tag is beyond my wildest dreams. Maybe a little lesson in measuring was in order.

    Now about the lining piece… why do you think there would be a dart in the CB piece, especially since it it cut with a potential style line that could have done the darting… it appears that the correct shape could have eliminated the dart.

    Next, the actual fabric piece looks so bad that it makes me wonder if the garment really had so much make or if the first pattern was so bad that it just had to be sewn like that to make it work.

    What do you think, Kathleen? Can you draw the garment as you think it would look? Or can you speculate about the strange darting (including dart angle?)

    Maybe the first worker did not have enough large pieces of fabric to make the lining, LOL… sorry.

  6. victoria kathrein says:


    This is unrelated to this particular post, but I am just curious. In my experience with patternmaking, it takes years of experience to train your eye. You mentioned Zac Posen. I have seen a couple of his things up close. They are amazing. Do you think he does his own patternmaking? Or, does he work like Dior used to work? That is: have some talented clothing engineers (which is what they are) do the work for him. I mean he is just a kid. I guess I am jealous.

  7. Kathleen says:

    Next, the actual fabric piece looks so bad that it makes me wonder if the garment really had so much make or if the first pattern was so bad that it just had to be sewn like that to make it work.

    Actually, my theory is something else altogether. I think that Gus was copying another DE who didn’t have their act entirely together either. I can’t tell you how often I see that. Remember the whole Beth Mitchell/Bobby Breslau bag thing? I think it was akin to something like that. DEs tend to copy other DEs, the run in the same circles (same retail outlets etc) which is why I keep saying it’s misplaced for DEs to be paranoid that some big outfit will do them in. It’s usually somebody on their same relative level (first). In this case, since the DE Gus copy didn’t have it together, I think the DE may have just done a repeat of the shell for the lining, not knowing how to cut a lining. That would explain the superfluous style lines. Just an idea, can’t prove it.

    In my experience with patternmaking, it takes years of experience to train your eye. You mentioned Zac Posen. I have seen a couple of his things up close. They are amazing. Do you think he does his own patternmaking?

    I’m glad I didn’t get this question 25 years ago, my answer would have been different. With hindsight, I can tell you that this field like any other attracts prodigies. Not often, not common but it happens. Some people don’t need years. Perhaps Zac is one of them; I suspect he is. When I was in school 25 years ago, I thought everybody else was lazy or too dense to see the obvious. I did not know that pattern shapes do not jump up and contort and form themselves for people in their minds. I did not know that people could not take the two dimensional form and spin it into a three dimensional object in the air in front of them. Taking a tuck here, adding fullness there, subtracting length, turning it about for a back view or spinning it to see the flare and fullness in a skirt -I did it in my head before I put it to actual paper. This is why I don’t use dress forms. Now I realize that this spatial ability is unusual. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with autism that I was told it was unique, I thought everybody had the ability and were just too lazy to do it, although that never made sense either because doing the pattern work and prototyping took more time so I really didn’t have an explanation. It still seems weird to me that people can’t do this but I’m told they can’t. I know there’s others like this. I’ve seen Zac’s stuff. That’s why I think he has AU abilities/traits (he and another I could mention, both very young). Knowing what I know now, I don’t see any other way they could be doing this if they didn’t have this ability. Not at this age. Not with no experience (relatively). So, while some people don’t need years to develop an eye, they need an edge somehow…

    oh, there’s nothing to be jealous of, nor even to admire really. It’s an oddity in the range of the human continuum and ability. It is not as tho they did anything to create this ability in themselves. I mean, would you admire or respect a woman just because she was born beautiful? Of course not, it was an accident of genetics.

  8. Karen C. says:

    I must say that I, too, admire Zac Posen’s garment construction. Jinjer and I checked out some of his stuff at Neiman Marcus this last Spring and were just blown away. I know he started with just his mom and sister, so I would really like to know who taught him construction.

    And Kathleen you are most definitely gifted, being able to look at something and figure out how to draft the pattern and such. I’m learning more and more, but my skills are definitely more design than technical. But at least I do it all so I understand what it takes to get a garment to market.

  9. Carissa says:

    Oh, Kathleen! I get it now, THAT’S why I hate making patterns. That is the way I see fabric, ideas, patterns, etc. It seems so redundant to me to make patterns and write every little detail down because I’m like, why can’t they just look at it and cut it out? I really didn’t know that it was unusual to see things that way.
    I feel now like I felt when I found out why painting is so easy for me and others struggle with it. I just look at an image, look at the canvas, and I see the image on the canvas. It’s as simple as paint by number to me. I can see the image directly on the surface. I never knew until a few years ago that others don’t see stuff that way.

    So, why doesn’t patternmaking drive you nuts, then like it does me? You said that you thought at first that the other students were just lazy. Doesn’t it irritate you that people you’re working with can’t see what you’re talking about? I just can’t deal with that all day! I am interested to know, though, what percentage of people that see things this way make up the needle trades.

    Thanks for clearing that up. Now I’m renewed to go work on my patterns more!

  10. La BellaDonna says:

    I mean, would you admire or respect a woman just because she was born beautiful? Of course not, it was an accident of genetics.

    Oh, Kathleen, you are so sweet and so funny and so nice and so genuinely innocent!

    OF COURSE people do! Does the phrase “Helen of Troy” ring a bell? People empty their wallets, carve their bodies up, starve themselves and kill over women who are “born beautiful.” Hollywood, men and women both, employers, all reward beauty; it’s the fuel that fires all the advertising, ultimately, that we’re all subjected to! Either the beauty itself will be yours, or by associating yourself with X product, you will attract the person with that beauty to you. The perceived transience of that beauty, or having less of it than someone else, leads to countless personal tragedies, year after year, century after century. It’s all over the Internet. It resonates throughout literature. It’s one of the leading impulses of the species – I know you’ve read “Survival of the Prettiest.”

    People can be jealous for much less cause than that. As someone who has painstaking and laboriously over the years developed the ability to do spatial analysis, I have to admit to a certain wistfulness; I have plenty of flaws, but they didn’t seem to come with any useful abilities attached. While I may be wistful about not having the native ability to design spatially, what I actually find admirable, however, is what you and Zac Posen have each done with your abilities and your lives. The ability without the application is a light unlit – and you light up the Internet, Kathleen, with your generosity.

    Heh. But at least I can wield a seam ripper. Or a pair of scissors. How the heck hard would it have been to take that pattern apart?? Sometimes it’s wonderful to watch what bone laziness will turn out.

  11. Carissa says:

    I should clarify. I think my comment could easily come across as being egotistical. I don’t mean to be at all. As LaBellaDonna was saying, “the ability without the application is a light unlit”. I have a great struggle with conveying what I want, patterns etc. That’s, I guess why I’ve been stuck in one of a kinds for the last ten years.

    I fail miserably at communicating how I want things done, and it’s perhaps the greatest difficulty I face in my work. I am in no way comparing myself to an ultra-talent. I don’t want anyone to think I’m like: “Hi, my name’s Prodigy. You can call me ‘Proddy’ for short.” Ha!ha!

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