On becoming a CAD pattern maker pt.2

The universe speaks! Follows is a redux of conversations I’ve had with colleagues over the past two days. Designers launching a line, it would be useful to follow along as it could reduce a lot of confusion and complexity you have experienced when sourcing services.

Context: my colleagues are old school pattern makers (mostly a good thing) who, while not opposed to CAD and may have even used it, don’t have a CAD system themselves. My position is that if a patternmaker is planning to stay in the game for at least the next 10 years, they need to get a CAD system.

Old school context: The range of pattern services to include pattern making, grading and marking, have always been separate functions and often, done by 3 different people. The patternmaker made patterns, a pattern grader graded the patterns for sizes and the marker maker made markers from the patterns for production to cut the fabric. Usually or often, patterns were made by hand with the grading and marking done by computer. Now, while each party may have used the same software and hardware for these different functions, they did not do each others jobs or only rarely and under duress. As in, somebody died.

This system worked pretty well in an age when manufacturing was better planned and organized. To a point, the pattern maker worked in the design phase, the grader at the tail end of the selling phase and the marker maker did his or her work after the fabric arrived -even when seated in the same room. So, while all of these people worked in the same department, their portion of the job was done on an completely different schedule. The pattern design of style 1001 may be finished in November but the grader wouldn’t get the job until May (after pre-sales) and the marker maker wouldn’t get the cutting ticket until mid June when the fabric had arrived for cutting.

But anyway, this is why an old school pattern maker will often not provide grading or marking services but send you off to somebody else who does. Not only are you asking for another job function that they don’t provide (not having a CAD system and the last two phases are heavily CAD dependent), service requests for grading and markers is also out of sync time wise. Of course these days things are kind of crazy. People often want something made, graded and marked at the same time because they have immediate orders to fill; all those preliminary steps were skipped. Oops! The schedule has compressed.

Long story short, the traditional pattern maker is correct in not needing CAD because they don’t grade or make markers. Many don’t do the latter two because we know too much and know that our counterparts are more skilled in these other functions than we are and we don’t want to step into a role we’re not comfortable with. With me so far?

Fast forward to today. There are a lot of new entrepreneurs who don’t understand how things are done -they’re new- so it strikes them as odd that a pattern service doesn’t provide the full gamut of services that a pattern department is traditionally expected to provide. We know why we don’t do it but prospective customers don’t. So, the trend moving forward is that pattern service providers will increasing step up to the plate to do it all. Or else.

Now, the context from my colleagues’ perspective is that they don’t want to get into grading and making markers because they know how hard it is and the tremendous increase of responsibilities. In some ways, it’s like going without a net or jumping without a back up parachute. Traditionally, graders would catch any errors we may have made and if we’re having to do it all, it’s a little scary. I should rephrase that. It is scary if you haven’t had to do it all on your own. But there is always a first time and yeah, moments of trepidation but you do learn and move forward with increasing competence and thus, confidence.

Designers can rightfully say that old school pattern makers need to get over it and learn something new but for many of us in the pattern side, it is enough to keep up with learning new processes, materials, styles, and throwing grading and marker making into the mix is pretty intimidating. Having to do grading and markers is impossible without a CAD system so that presents its own set of variables, the least of which can be expense. An industry CAD system with hardware costs in the neighborhood of $25,000.

Now this is what I think. I think that if a patternmaker is planning to stay in the game for at least the next 10 years, they need to get a CAD system. Customers these days want a soup to nuts solution.

So this is what my colleagues have told me when I said the above; they think they can continue to ship their patterns off to a grader for digitizing and grading, who will then send it along to Fulano’s marking service. To which I’ve responded, stand alone grading and marking services are dying out. Which sounds completely crazy because the remaining grading and marking services out there are very busy, having their best year ever. And they will remain busy, feeding from other patternmakers without CAD systems until the grading and marking service owner sells out or dies. Whoever takes over will want to be full service themselves so they’re not going to be able to take grading jobs from freelance pattern makers anymore. Which in turn will force pattern makers who want to stay in the business, to get CAD systems for themselves because they won’t have anyone to send the grading and marking to anymore.

So that’s where it is. If you plan to stay in the game, the time to budget and plan for the acquisition of a CAD system is now. Reason being, you’re going to need to pick the brains of pattern graders and marker makers until you feel reasonably competent. It’ll take time to transition. In my case, I still have a trainer who helps me with grading. I do most of the work but if I’m not sure about it or have issues, I send her the file for repairs and or suggestions. I also have files I wouldn’t dare grade that I send. The thing is, the people who know this stuff well aren’t getting any younger and it’s only a matter of time before they retire. If we don’t pick up the slack before they do, we’re just as guilty of losing institutional knowledge as those we often criticize.

If any of this describes you, your next question should be “what CAD system should I get?” Wars have been started under flimsier pretexts but we can talk about it if there is interest. For what it’s worth, I use StyleCAD and couldn’t be more delighted. I’d purchased another not to be named program previously and it was one of the worst financial decisions I’ve ever made.

If you have a program you like, it would be nice if you’d consider contributing to a follow up post should it come to that.

On becoming a CAD pattern maker
SOP: CAD pattern making processes
SOP: CAD pattern making processes pt.2
Resolutions: Will this be the year you get a CAD system?
Handmade or CAD patterns: which are better?
CAD software compatibility in marker making
Why pattern makers resist learning CAD

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  1. This is a very timely post…

    Just had a conversation with our CAD System vendor about not being able to find pattern makers who could also grade (let alone do yields using marker software)
    It turns out that (I happened to be lucky enough) to always work in environments where grading was always part of the CAD Pattern maker’s job…
    I can’t believe that (until that conversation) I NEVER KNEW it wasn’t the norm!

    Every week we get (at least) one new prospect who wants to work with us because their pattern maker is not set up to offer a full development (Pattern, yield, sample, cost) or production package (grading, marking, cut and sew) and there are things falling through the cracks…

    We recently streamlined our business model so that sampling, technical design and costing services are ONLY AVAILABLE for styles that we have developed (or audited and released) a pattern for…
    Pre-production services (marking, grading, pattern corrections) are only available to accounts that place CMT orders with us

    The reason for this change was simple… By doing it all under one roof we are preserving the advantages of the “old school” way of doing things while we rely on technology to improve efficiency and speed to market

  2. Melissa says:

    I too find this timely… have been researching which CAD system to learn (in an attempt to reinvent my career), and quite frankly find it completely daunting. I thought it may be wise to look at the classifieds (I looked at technical designers) and see what people are looking for in their future employees. I didnt find too much to lead me in many directions. One was Lectra? but I can’t find anything on it except it’s own website which I didnt find that helpful (with a five sentence blurb about its apparel design program providing “end to end” solutions). I’m wondering if you or your readers could comment on common CAD programs in the industry and why they are common/preferred?

  3. Lisa B says:

    It has been over twelve years but I did research on many of the CAD programs such as PAD, Gerber, Lectra, Assyst, Tuckatesh, and possibly others. I can not remember. I went to the Bobbin show in Atlanta, Georgia (which is no longer) and spoke to the sales staff, watched demonstrations, and tested different systems. It was overwhelming. When I returned home I tried to make sense of all the information that I collected and I came to the conclusion that it was too expensive for the system along with the technical support that would be needed if any problems arose. I did not know anyone local or far for that matter who had a system so I could not ask questions. Also, the individual CAD companies were not very open when it came to offering information on costs.
    I still want to have a patternmaking business. I actually was speaking with a colleague about having our own business this afternoon. I am overwhelmed as I was 12 years ago and the investment of $25,000 is not helping.

  4. Kathleen says:

    Hi Melissa, we will probably do that. Esther and Angela had written CAD 101 posts for us a long time ago but those are due for updating.

    At one point, don’t recall where, I’d mentioned that reading help wanted ads could be misleading if you used that to gauge which system you should acquire. It is more typical that large firms will be advertising and they tend to use Lectra or Gerber, almost exclusively. It doesn’t necessarily hold that you should get that too altho I can see why it makes for an easy decision (cognitive shortcut).

    If you want training because you want to seek employment, then you can’t go wrong with taking a class in Gerber or Lectra (altho between the two, I’d lean towards Gerber). Even if an employer uses a competing system you don’t know, the most important issues are that you have a lot of manual experience and that you’re not afraid of CAD technology and lastly, have been sufficiently motivated to take a class. Pretty much anyone will take an experienced pattern maker with CAD experience even if it’s not the preferred program.

  5. Kathleen says:

    Lisa, it is not a casual investment by any measure but the price I listed was new everything. You can buy used systems (we should also discuss that in the future post). You can get a digitizing mat instead of a board (saves $2K), you can get a narrower width HP plotter as a temporary measure and that could save you $10K. Software, unless you buy it used is the hang up. Most of the competing programs will let you make payments spread out over a year.

  6. Beth says:

    I would adore having a home-based patternmaking company for clients that manufacture domestically. I wouldn’t even know where to begin though – the equipment and even the investment doesn’t intimidate me very much, but I don’t know when I’ll ever really be able to get that old-school knowledge. I came into the industry with the tidal wave of tech designers, and I feel like my dream of being an actual patternmaker is slipping away. That’s my sob story to convince you to do this series, and maybe to think about offering some training or workshops!

  7. Kathleen says:

    That’s my sob story to convince you to do this series, and maybe to think about offering some training or workshops!

    I do offer training, have been doing it for years (before I started this blog). I don’t teach beginner patterns (except production patternmaking for designers) or beginning sewing mostly because there are a lot of resources that are a better match (close by, inexpensive, experienced with helping beginners). My focus is the apparel practitioner, masters classes and industrial practices. My rates are very reasonable, less than half what you’d pay with an organization like TC2 and you get a lot more out of it, one on one.

    Typically, I use the customer’s pattern or create one for them while they watch (if not supervising them doing the work), we cut it, sew it, fit it, make any needed corrections so they leave with a completed working pattern plus all the training that went into it (a lot more than I’ve said here). Plus, I provide accommodations in my guest house so it’s a pretty sweet deal. There is more info at the above link.

  8. Shauna Smith says:

    I love the process of grading and marking manually. A real fun brain teaser that I rarely get the chance to do – while making money. I love working on computers and always have, especially with a good graphics program. I love making patterns. So it would seem a really natural step for me to invest in a CAD system. I will one day. For myself – not for the money or the potential increase in clients. Here are my reasons:

    I have three main types of clients; entry level designers with little to no training, product developers and experienced manufacturers trying to cut costs in the design phase.

    Entry Level Designers: want me to grade patterns before they have even been “proven” – just make the pattern then grade it – without trying it on anyone or doing a cost analysis or anything. They want me to make a marker without even knowing how wide their fabric is, what the length of the table is, or sometimes even where it’s going to get cut at. I can fulfill their requests, but it’s robbery and I know it. Having to outsource the grading and marking “slows” them down. Makes them ask relevant questions about the process. Makes them think of the cost and the benefit.

    Product Developers: Don’t need grading at all because the product doesn’t change size OR because they are getting enough units on ONE product, the sewing contractor takes care of the grading and marking because they want to optimize their time and profits. They often times will even source the fabrics, trims and findings to optimize the ease of sewing by ordering the “correct” products and will pad the COG cost. I don’t think I have worked in a sewing factory that didn’t have the capability to print their own markers.

    Experienced Manufacturers: The companies I work with just want me to work with the designer to create the subjective style with the correct fit. I have a knack for “reading minds” and creating the garment they are after. I can do a couple of day dresses with fit samples and first patterns in a day. If their line is 10 pieces per season, they don’t need to keep someone like me on staff full time. These manufacturers then take my product – sometimes the pattern and first sample, sometimes just the sample, and send it to their factory in China or India or Guatemala. There they take my pattern and CHANGE IT to work best with their sewing methodology and with the types of machines that they have to work with. THUS any grading or marking I may be capable of or have done would be a waste of time and money.

    I know that if I were a busy designer / manufacturer – especially one just starting up and doing this part time while still working a full time job or whatever, I would LOVE to just dump a picture on someones desk and say: “make my dream come true!” And I love making my clients dreams come true. But in all honesty there is a good reason to have to slow down the process and be involved in each step. I – as a professional pattern maker – am frightened of being solely responsible for an idea from start to finish without any intervention along the way by any other professional. And a smart designer wouldn’t really want to put all that on one person unless that person had a vested interest in their company: AKA partner or co-owner.

    I will get a CAD system soon (thanks for the headsup about StyleCad), but I don’t think I will evolve into a one stop shop unless I were working with a special client I trusted. And if that were the case, I would probably be a partner of some sort.

    I truly hope that the grading and marking companies out there stay in business for as long as I am working. I LOVE having that sort of interaction with professionals outside of my pattern room. I often times enjoy educating my clients on the process. If the grading companies decide to hire pattern makers to be on staff, more power to them! There is more than enough room for all sorts of business models and the full service company is definitely wanted and needed.

  9. Shauna Smith says:

    But, Kathleen, I do think you are right. Thank you for making me sit down and think about this. A future thinking pattern making company will have a CAD program or two and scanners and plotters. Maybe I’ll just be a sample house ;-) I get so wrapped up in quality and personalized attention that I forget, one can streamline just about anything into an efficient, profitable process if you try. And I am sure the product that ensues is plenty good for today’s apparel market.

  10. Esther says:

    I have always been a CAD pattern maker, grader and marker maker in one until recently. I’m currently saving up for my own system, which is taking far longer than I would like. The cutting markers did intimidate because of the liability if something did go wrong, but really they aren’t that difficult to do. I agree that the CAD 101 articles need updating, I’ll have to look at them again…

  11. Samira says:

    Thank you Kathleen for sharing this information. I am following your blog almost a year, and indeed, it keeps me a few hours “positively” busy.
    I agree with most what has already been said I only want to add the following.
    I do not know if you’ve read this article about the TUKATEcenters (http://www.tukatech.com/news/PressRelease_MassMarking.html) and whether you already have experience with these centers. If so,
    1) what is your experience with this way of working?
    2) is that what we need to draw, grading and marking of our own patterns?
    3) Or should we just look for new technologies that makes us independent of current CAD systems?

  12. Melissa says:

    I’m circling back around to this conversation. I recently reached out to thee only “technical designer” I have any type of connection to and await any response. I’m wondering if anyone who reads this knows anyone in the business in the Boston area? I would like to meet and discuss the business with someone before I head down the path. I realize it may be a lot to ask but worth asking. Anyone?

  13. Shilo Rives says:

    I’m in industrial design and we use CAD at work and I have a trial Rhino5 program at home. still poking at it, while I grade patterns the old fashioned way for my adaptive clothing line, if I do grade them. I’m not ready for the volume just yet.

  14. Toni says:

    Kathleen I seem to recall your comment about German Pattern Contruction being the best of the many available. Why not look at the best CAD system for pattern making in the market –
    the German CAD system GRAFIS. http://www.grafis.com V.11 is something to behold.
    Yes I know we recommended it to you a while back, before you purchased your previous system…
    And you made a commercial judgement on the Grafis free downloadable version 10! The free version understanably has timer on it which you found annoying; thats because it was the full version; but free for students and trial purposes! Used in more than a 100 uni’s and colleges is EU. Its much more sophisticated than Style Cad which has quite a strong presence in Aus. Grafis says try them all and find the one you like best and can afford. If you have tried all the ones you mention, but not Grafis then you and your online fans are missing something…I was a former Lectra user and fan of that since 1988; but when I saw Grafis I knew it was a big step forward in at an affordable price. Your fans deserve to know about them all..

  15. Kathleen says:

    Understood Toni. Yes I made my assessment based on the free version. As I said at the time, having to deal with the dinging and waiting 10 seconds, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over, made me crazy. This interrupts my thought process and work flow; I’m a professional user, I don’t have time for it. As I also said, the download expires in a month so to have the audio and wait time built in, was overkill.

    And you could be right, maybe we are missing out on something awesome. Unfortunately, if the barriers to experimenting with the software are a deal killer, fewer people are going to try it. Maybe indies and startup designers have more time than money and are willing to put up with the delays and dings with the hopes of getting a great program for less money. Personally, I think Grafis should consider shortening the trial period to a week or 10 days, and getting rid of the annoying beeps and 10 second delay.

    Also, the Grafis program did not register itself, making deletion of the program extremely difficult. Grafis told me to merely delete the folder but that didn’t work either. I had to use a workaround I found online written by someone else who had a similar problem removing Grafis from their system. All this means is that there was some sort of windows registry conflict that I thought was a bit odd considering this was version 10 (?) and the bugs should have been worked out by then.

    All that said, if I ever run into someone who has Grafis installed on their system, I’d be delighted to try it out!

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