More cutting and grading questions

Here are more questions from my mail. Today’s questions were submitted by JC Sprowls, a custom tailor interested in learning about manufacturing. By the way, you can submit your own questions provided I can blog them. I will respond to questions that have a likelihood of being of interest to visitors. Otherwise, if you want personalized responses sent to you personally you’ll have to pay for consulting. You may remain anonymous.

1. Some people have told me that the “serious” contractors have computer-guided cutters — if my contractor cuts with a paper marker by hand, is that a bad sign?

No, it is not a bad sign if your contractor cuts with a straight knife and a paper marker. I would chide whoever told you that for the crime of fear-mongering. Don’t get me wrong, CAD/CAM is great but it’s pricey and it’s estimated that only 15% of manufacturers have that kind of capacity. Of those with CAD, 85% only use their systems for grading and marking, not pattern making so the number using CAM (cutting with computer guided lasers or water) is even smaller. The kind of firms that use this equipment are very large concerns. So large in fact that it is highly unlikely that they’d take your work considering the small (anything less than 10,000 units) orders you’d be likely to need.

2. How many ‘layers” can be spread or cut together (for men’s suits)? How does this affect marker consumption?

This is a two part question. For the first part -how many layers- it is unlikely that the quantity of items that you’d want cut would exceed the level of plies that could be cut. Rather, it is more likely that your job would fall well under capacity. Even with a relatively short straight knife, the goods can be laid at least 6″ deep. Now, regarding how this affects marker consumption, it is best to review pp 114-120 in The Entrepreneur’s Guide regarding Production Cutting because I couldn’t summarize all of that here.

3. What is the difference between men’s – cutting the goods folded, and women’s where the pieces are all laid out – is there a cost difference?

Ouch! Who told you that cutting for men’s attire means cutting folded goods? Run! Don’t use that shop! Better yet, tell me who they are so I’ll be sure to tell everyone not to use that company’s services. Unless you’re cutting tubular knits for t-shirts and the like, all goods for any kind of sewn product be it for men, women, automobiles, home furnishings, pets -you name it- should be cut unfolded! I would love to know the rationale that this adviser of yours says is the reason why men’s clothes should be cut on the fold. This is ludicrous.

4. What is a reasonable price to pay per “piece” for marker layout?

See the top of pg 122 in The Entrepreneur’s Guide (it wouldn’t hurt to review that entire section on hiring a grading service). Also, I published several posts on this topic previously which you can find here, here, here and here.

5. What is a reasonable price to pay for grading either per “piece” in the pattern or per size?

See the answer to the question above.

6. Should I trust the grading service to have the right grading scales for my product, or should I be giving them the grading I’m looking for? If so where do I find it?

Again from the The Entrepreneur’s Guide you should read “Practical Guide to Grading” on pp 170-175. I don’t think it’s an issue of “trust” unless you expect the grading service to read your mind because every manufacturer has different requirements and knows what’s right for them. Maybe yours are fine with a basic 2″ grade but I wouldn’t know. I would want to know if the grading service used the traditional kind of grading or the sloppier modern method (a comparison of these two is shown in figure 5.65 & 5.66 on pg 172). For grading, I recommend Handford’s grading book.

7. Do I need a separate set of markers for striped goods with “blocks” to aid stripe-matching?

I’m not sure I understand your question but I think I get the gist of it. If you’re making suits, all of your pattern blocks should be marked with a match stripe. This is explained in the section entitled “Production pattern making 101” pp 176-180 of The Entrepreneur’s Guide. See the illustration on pg 180 for a match stripe. Now, regarding the second part of your question, since you’re making suits, you’d have that match stripe digitized when the pattern is graded. When you are ready to cut some striped goods, you’d ask the grader to align the pieces in the marker according to the match stripe. Of course, the grader will need to know the size of the repeat. You wouldn’t need a totally separate pattern with match stripes. Rather, make a practice of always putting a match stripe on suit patterns whether you’ve planned for striped goods or not. When ordering a marker, one of the instructions you’d provide is whether the goods had a stripe or not. If they didn’t, the layout would be more economical fabric utilization-wise but still, the match stripe capacity would always be in the system if you ever needed it.

8. If I have a pattern graded and marked, and I change just a couple of pieces i.e. two-button to three-button (change front, facing, collar, under collar, front fusible), what is a reasonable charge to have the pieces graded and new markers made up -surely this should be cheaper than an entirely new garment?

I don’t know what you’re paying now so I wouldn’t know. Regarding pattern making (ignoring the grading part of your question for now) I can tell you definitively that when we make patterns, we are starting from a suit block (in this case) anyway so we’re always modifying a previously made pattern. In other words, we’re already always halfway there. So, in ordering your changes, I don’t see that it’d be that much different from what was done the first time. In other words, you may not realize the savings that you’d expect.

With grading, these are entirely new pieces that have to be digitized in and you wouldn’t realize the savings that you might think should be there. It’s less expensive to re digitize the whole piece rather than throw the old piece in the system and compare it to a new one…the opportunities for mistakes are just limitless! The end result of your question is that there would be little to no savings between style modifications. Any savings you’d realize would be from the front end -pattern making- but not grading. Maybe the pattern could be recut in fewer hours than the first one was cut but there’d be no time savings with the grading portion.

Now, there is another way you can save money and that is if you’re using PN numbers. If you’re using PN numbers and sharing pattern pieces between styles (sleeves, backs, pockets -whatever pieces have not changed), then you can save a tidy pile. With PN numbers, you might only need 8-10 pieces to be redigitized rather than the whole style. Review the posting on PN numbers for how to do that. Also read the related postings on cutter’s musts (pt.2).

9. Is there some “special” know-how for men’s suits that should prevent me from going to any “regular” grading/marking service.

It’s always a good practice to go with a specialist, especially if you’ll need them to design the grade rule library for you. However (and this is a big however), while it’s important to get a specialized pattern maker or contractor, this is less important for grading. The reason is that grading services are aggregators. They have a broader experience with a wider range of product types. Contractors and cutters can be picky about the grading services they like. I find that it’s best to get your grading referral from your contractor. Sewing contractors are in a much better position to know who makes good markers than anyone else.

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  1. Big Irv says:

    1. Some people have told me that the “serious” contractors have computer-guided cutters — if my contractor cuts with a paper marker by hand, is that a bad sign?
    Now that is pretty funny. As a contractor, if you are doing the same thing , day in, day out, it may make sense to install a computerized cutter. I would consider our factories pretty “serious”, and we could never work with an automated cutting method. We simply cut too wide a variety of fabrics on a daily basis to justify this kind of set up. A “serious” cutter can also give you a better yield than the a computerized marker too.
    I know of many factories that got “conned” into buying these CAD cutting systems, only to get frustrated and return to a manual method.
    We also like patterns made the old fashioned way. Weekly , we have to remake patterns rather than adjust other people’s shoddy work.
    Big Irv

  2. Carol Kimball says:

    Big Irv:
    “We also like patterns made the old fashioned way. Weekly, we have to remake patterns rather than adjust other people’s shoddy work.”

    You mean that on a weekly basis shoddy work comes in that has to be redone in your preferred old-fashioned format? Not that all your patterns need to be remade weekly…

  3. Josh says:

    Wow! And I thought I had some weird questions. And I really have no room to talk but No. 3 takes the cake. I guess when you don’t know you really don’t know.

  4. Carol Kimball says:

    And the only stupid questions are the unasked ones that a person is too arrogant/dumb to realize they need to know.

  5. Big Irv says:

    It is so much easier just to remake a pattern, rather than adjust it. Often, companies get samples made in their area, send the pattern for bulk production to us, and expect us to make all sorts of adjustments to the existing pattern. Many times the pattern maker is not told what type of fabric is to be used for the style, and we need to redo it.
    Just last week I received patterns for activewear that will be made using Nylon/Spandex, but the patternmaker cranked out patterns assuming 7-10% shrinkage for cotton fabric. Literally, back to the drawing board.
    As for questions that we think are dumb, we should be so lucky to have this resource available to set us all straight. As Carol says, better to ask. You look better in the long run in the eyes of many people.
    Big Irv

  6. Alison says:

    Big Irv,

    Do you get to charge for your patternmaking services? Or do you just eat the costs as the price of retaining the customer?

  7. Big Irv says:

    We charge the client for our patternmaking services. It is done on a per item basis. The client will provide specs, drawings, or a existing reference sample. Any revisions to the pattern by the client, are considered a change, and we sometimes need to surcharge. Some of our clients are full package customers.They just want to buy a finished product, and don’t want to hear about anything but the final unit cost. We blend everything, including our profit into that price.
    Big Irv

  8. Linda says:

    Thanks Kathleen….I paid a pattern maker to make, mark and grade my pattern. Same pattern for two different skirts …one skirt has a ruffle…the other does not. My pattern maker charged me to grade both patterns….shouldn’t he just have charged me to just mark one of the patterns being that they’re the same pattern?

  9. kathleen says:

    shouldn’t he just have charged me to just mark one of the patterns being that they’re the same pattern?

    No. Marking is priced differently. The cost is often based on the number of sizes arranged into the marker regardless of the number of separate style numbers (patterns) the spread will cut. Assuming you had 3 sizes from skirt one and 3 sizes from skirt two, you’d pay for six sizes. The cost would be the same (or nearly so) as if you only had the one skirt but in six sizes.

    This is just a baseline explanation of marker costs. You can expect to pay extra for separate colorways, match stripe/naps, one-ways etc. There is a detailed section in my book on pp 114-120 that explains a whole lot more about what goes into markers and marking.

  10. Alison Cummins says:

    RE cutting men’s suits on the fold:

    Custom suits are often made in small shops with stock fabric folded onto a bolt. It could make sense to cut it folded as a way of dealing with that nasty crease running down the middle of the goods.

    In a factory, the goods are on a roll, not folded onto a bolt. No nasty crease to work around.

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