This isn’t what I intended to be writing about but it ended up that way. This entry was supposed to be about making men’s ties -along with a nifty construction process I think is better than the way that other people on the web show you how to do it. No no, it ended up being about calculating fabric usage by way of marker making because the trickiest thing about making men’s ties -presumably in a production environment since that’s what we do around here- is figuring out how to cut the things out. Ties are an extreme and in some respects, simplistic example but I think it’s still useful for illustrative purposes.
The trickiest thing about making ties isn’t sewing them. It’s cutting them in such a way you don’t sacrifice product quality but optimize your yield. A reason why ties are such a great example of this is because they are definitely generated according to the fabric width. In the book, I talk about how and why a pattern maker will -ideally- need to know the width of your fabric before they start working (don’t hire one who doesn’t ask). A pattern maker has to keep a macro view of fabric usage as they work. Ties are the best example of this as I’ve ever found. Before I forget. In keeping with the original intent of the series, I have a tie pattern for you if someone can tell me how to output it. I thought I could save as anything (DXF etc) but those options aren’t popping up for me.
When you’re planning a line of products, anticipated material usage should be right at the top of the list. Making bias dresses is going to take quite a bit more fabric than ones cut on grain. Therefore, you’re probably looking at higher price points. Same thing with ties. Can you afford to make them? Fabrics designed for ties can be expensive. If your ties will have an obvious pattern such as a large graphic on the tip of the fatter end, it’ll cost even more. If you want to use fabric like that, not only will you have to tell the pattern maker the width, you’ll have to provide a fabric sample containing more than one repeat.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume you want ties without an obvious pattern such as a large central graphic. Most of these fabrics are 44-45 wide silks. Below is a view of one pattern laid out (larger view 24kb).
In making one tie, fabric usage is about 23″ with 30% efficiency. That means 70% of the available square inches of fabric are wasted. If we assume our tie fabric is $100 a yard or $2.78 per inch (although pricey, most aren’t this costly but let’s make the math easy), the fabric cost for this tie is $64. At 30% efficiency, that means $44.76 will end up in the trash. [By the way, this is yet another reason why samples are expensive, more on this later.].
Adding a second tie takes a total of 24.5″ for both, reducing fabric usage to 12.25″ each but efficiency jumps to 57% (below, larger view 37kb).
This time, the fabric cost per tie is $34 in materials but of this, due to the 43% waste, $29.26 goes in the trash. By the way, if you ever wonder why a contractor resents attempts to negotiate the sewing fees lower, it could have a lot to do with the efficiency of your patterns. On each item of this example, the $29+ worth of fabric going in the trash is equivalent to over three hours of labor per piece. You’re throwing out more in the trash than you’re paying them. They resent negotiating attempts because you’re asking them to take a pay cut so you can continue to waste money on fabric. Like I always say, if you have your heart set on blowing that kind of money, it’s better to give it to people than the trash can.
I got a question about allocation costs this morning. The DE wanted to know how and when she should calculate fabric allocation for samples. As you can see from this example, it would be very handy to know that you’re better off ordering ties in multiples of two because one costs as much as two in material and since the biggest cost of ties is fabric (returning to the third paragraph of this entry) this matters a great deal. The only way you’ll know allocation, is by either getting the figure from the pattern maker or if that’s you, you’ll have to mock up a marker (pg 114-120 of the book).
In the end, of course two ties isn’t efficient. Below is a mock up of a marker showing ten ties. By the way, this marker was made using the “Quick” auto-“nesting” feature of my marker making software. [I put “nesting” in quotation marks because this isn’t technically nesting but that’s the term they use for it. A nest shows on overlay of all sizes as one pattern piece. Auto-plot might be a better term for it but then you wouldn’t know old school pattern makers like me rarely avoid the opportunity to find fault with the terminology that software programs use :). Doesn’t seem like a big deal unless you’re hunting and pecking through menus to find functions. Then it matters.] They have another marker making option that analyzes at a higher level that you can add on; it costs a bit more but people swear by it (I don’t have it). In this example below the auto-“nesting” marker maker rendered this result (larger view 144kb),
Increasing the marker to make ten ties (using the auto-“nesting” feature) increases efficiency to 60.66%, a substantial yield improvement. That still seems awful. So, not having made many markers, I thought I’d make one manually to see if I could improve over the auto function of the computer. You don’t know this but there’s a lot of marker makers who really dislike automatic marker making and claim they can do it better. The research backs them up. It’s estimated that manual marker making can improve efficiency from 3% to 7%. As it happens, I get a yield of nearly 70% efficiency (69.93%) with the manual marker. That improvement in efficiency is about a 15%. I’m sure a pro could easily beat even that. Here’s what my manually made marker looks like (larger view 130kb).
Material usage at this point stands at 10 1/8″ per tie (.3yd, chart from pg.81), actual cost being nearly $28 per tie. Compared to cutting one ($64) or two ties ($34), this is substantial savings. However, there’s still 30% of your fabric ending up in the trash, amounting to $8.46 per unit (waste for one $45, two was $14.65). This is where you might want to go back and re-read the second paragraph of this entry. Oh never mind, for the sake of reading continuity, I’ll repeat it for you:
The trickiest thing about making ties isn’t sewing them. It’s cutting them in such a way you don’t sacrifice product quality but optimize your yield. A reason why ties are such a great example of this is because they are definitely generated according to the fabric width. In the book, I talk about that how and why a pattern maker will -ideally- need to know the width of your fabric before they start working (don’t hire one who doesn’t ask). A pattern maker has to keep a macro view of fabric usage as they work. Ties are the best example of this as I’ve ever found.
Knowing fabric width and mocking up a marker, a pattern maker will know roughly how much fabric you’ll need and how much waste will be left over well before you’ve ever had one prototype sewn up. Take a look at the tie below. On the left side, you’ll see an example of pattern engineering. The tie has been split into three pieces rather than two.
I’m pleased to show this example because one of our DE‘s family owned the Wembley Tie Company for many years.
By the way, this is why a “really simple” pattern can cost more than you imagine it should. Anybody can take a tie apart and make a pattern for it like I did; it’s the matter of engineering the pattern to fit on a marker with less waste that is the time consuming factor in this pattern’s design. It helps if they have a CAD program to make it easier and faster but it can be done by hand too. The point is, making the tie into a three piece, rather than a two piece pattern like the Wembly tie above, can significantly increase the yield, more than paying for the cost of the pattern engineering. It’s activity and investment at the front end of the process that generates the most savings. Most of you worry more about sewing costs when you should be worrying more about pattern and fabric efficiencies instead. I rarely find a pattern in which I can’t find at least 50 cents to a dollar in reduced sewing costs through better pattern engineering.
Returning to a related matter of fabric width and pattern engineering, again see the repeat of the automatic marker below:
You can see that’s there’s waste at the top of the marker. What this means is that if your fabric is narrower than the 45″ I’m using for this example, you may not get a better yield if you break up the tie into three pieces. You may do well enough as is. This is also another example of why you may need a separate pattern for the same product if you’re using different fabrics. You can’t always use the pattern designed for one width of goods on all of them. This is also why, if you’re using different widths of goods, your costs will vary for the same exact product. I know that’s obvious to many of you but it’s not for everyone. Therefore, your product costs will differ even if the fabrics cost the “same”.
In such cases of making the same product out of different width goods, you worry about pricing. If the items are identical except for fabric but you want uniform pricing, I recommend averaging the costs between the two and selling each for the same price. Now just because they have the same price doesn’t mean they should have the same style number. These are two entirely different patterns (two vs three piece), you don’t want them mixed up accidentally. There’s no reason you can’t price them the same. You could argue the three piece costs more in pattern making and charge more for it but it’s also saving you fabric money that the two piece isn’t.