I have made a lot of mistakes and had bad luck with working with DEs, retailers and individuals who have used my services. Some of it does stem from lack of experience, but some of the things that have happened I couldn’t have seen coming from an inch away. In this case, I did the job for free to hopefully to get other jobs and references. I was given a production pattern and a line sheet for a pair of pull on pants. There was a front technical sketch and the pattern looked pretty straightforward to me. The customer asked me to change four things, which pretty much means a new pattern to me. So, I drafted a pattern off the production pattern, with the changes, adding 1/2 inch seam allowance to the production pattern. I sewed it up with 1-inch seam allowance, so they could fit the performer in this costume. I only had his waist measurement. The pattern sewed up gigantic! I know the DE’s line and knew it to use a lot of ease, but this was way bigger. Granted, I did not double measure the production pattern, the line sheet gave me finished waist size so I went with that.
OK Here is the question: It turned out that she had given me a “Shrink to fit” pattern that was used apparently with a very shrink-y fabric. She said “I should have known” it was a “shrink to fit”, even though it was not noted on the line sheet or pattern itself. I was accused of making an avoidable mistake due to my “lack of experience.” Is this true??? Are shrink to fit patterns recognizable? I never saw one before and have not worked in the knit industry, so I had to take her at her word. I feel bad as I put in a lot of effort and would have liked a good result. Even if I had seen it, I still would have needed much more information to fix the pattern. So I think it was just a bad situation and that I could have avoided if I had more experience that for sure!
Before I move on to your question, I have to deal with a few things for clarification. First, I don’t understand why you had to add 1/2″ seam allowance to a production pattern because allowance should have been there already (only slopers don’t have seam allowance). By definition, it couldn’t have been a production pattern if it didn’t have allowance. Secondly, I would have discouraged sewing the sample at 1″ allowance. For better or worse, the only way to properly test a pattern is to sew it at the stipulated seam allowance because taking a larger allowance would mean you’re moving into area allocated to the pattern rather than any construction allowance which usually compromises the proving of the pattern. Third, by “line sheet” I’m thinking you mean a sketch sheet? A line sheet is a little different.
Returning to your question “Are shrink to fit patterns recognizable?”, I’d say not. If a pattern is rendered for a specific fabric (and they usually are) one cannot guess -unless they’re the person who made the original pattern. Typically, you’d have to know the specifics of the “parent” pattern (block or “style reference no.”) the fabric for which it was made and the allowance for shrinkage that was added. This sort of information should be tracked on the sketch sheet or specifications sheet of the block or parent pattern. It was entirely inappropriate for your customer to have had the expectation that you’d know. Assuming you did know, how were you to guess the shrink percentage? Rather, it is incumbent upon the customer to provide that information. Since the pattern was not marked for “shrink” and you could not know that, the customer should have provided that information one way or another.
Customers like this can be a real pill. In real life, the situation is often such that a customer like this becomes exasperated if you ask them for more information because they think they’ve given you enough or they don’t want to be bothered. When I’ve asked for more information in the past, I’ve gotten reactions ranging from insults to paranoia. If I ask for more, a designer has too often implied I must not be very professional because her last pattern maker didn’t need it (no mystery why she needs another pattern maker, eh?). Or, if I’ve asked about specific fabrications, a designer gets really paranoid, like I’m trying to copy her design or something. It was designers like this who inspired me to write that book in the first place.
If you are someone just starting out providing services to the community, our continued conversation will be of interest to you. My first response to her was “As you gain some experience, you will learn to avoid jerks like this. I know it took me a couple of years to figure it out.” In response Tracy writes:
She had a large production at one time, and six retail stores as well. I have admired her for years, and when I ran into her, I was falling all over to help her on this “celebrity project”, because I thought it might have possibilities for me. Also, I was very interested in seeing her process going from concept to production. However, as we progressed it became clear that she may be rusty (read time waster) as a designer, and was not very familiar with pattern making, even though she employed a bunch, and owns “thousands” of production patterns. I knew “something” was up with the ease, and I called her during the process and asked her about the patterns fit, but I realize now she probably was a “business owner” and this maybe even her first time dealing with the mechanics. I should have asked the name of her X pattern maker. She is on a first name basis with all of the major clothing companies around here. Also she is extremely “cool”, in a way that I have always wanted to be.
When I first started out, I was impressed by some customers too; they had a lot of good press. It takes awhile for reality to sink in. I got patterns so bad I didn’t know what to do; I couldn’t understand it. Some patterns were so bad that I honestly reflected that they couldn’t be burned -the fumes of which had the potential to compromise the fertility of the entire county for generations to come- yet somehow, they’d been “successful”. Course, later you find out all kinds of other stuff. That they’re into hock up to their ears. That they have second and third mortgages. That they’ve filed for bankruptcy. That they’ve stiffed everyone. In fact, it got to the point that when a local big name approached me, my first thought was that they needed another pattern maker because their last one had cut them off. A lot of them take advantage of the fact that they’re known, that their name will wow you and even get upset if you request an advance on the job. I definitely have been stiffed more by known companies than unknowns so watch out. I also suspect this is common nationally. That’s why a lot of service providers and suppliers who’ve been around for years honestly do not care if you’re the Queen of Sheba, you pay up front or upon delivery or you don’t get table time.
The other thing about this profile of customer, is often they don’t know the mechanics; they’ve been insulated from it usually by a partner, production manager or assistant. The thing is, the assistant or partner finally bails and the designer doesn’t have the background themselves to cover the short fall so in many respects, it’s like starting over with a newbie but it’s worse because you’re catching someone with an ego (self invested) who thinks they already know everything on the downhill slope so this can be a tough battle. My advice? Get a deposit. Everybody pays, no matter how famous they are. Chances are excellent a client like this will walk but trust me, if they won’t pay beforehand, they won’t pay later either. Once you have an established relationship, then you can extend terms (not requiring an advance for example). I have a friend who charges a $500 retainer before she starts work for a new client, refunding the balance as needed of course. She figures if they can’t come up with that, they’re not serious. But back to the point of a “known, successful” name not knowing anything, you’d be surprised who doesn’t know what. It’s truly shocking. I wrote a whole chapter on it. It’s called “The Big Dirty Secret”. That’s why people in the business will often vett each other, interviewing extensively about early work experiences. Someone with a lot of history in the cutting room and patterns has a lot more credibility than someone with a college degree but no factory floor experience.
My idea was to start a DE service company (you had mentioned a similar service, a while ago) up here in the SF area, but over the last three years almost all my jobs have turned out to be for “crazy people”. I keep thinking it must be me, but when I have worked for designers, the things that have happened have been really discouraging. There are a lot more egos than I anticipated, a lot of ignorance, and not enough courtesy and knowledge. I have been yelled at, rushed, stiffed and of all things, snapped at! I don’t want to deal with the GP (general public) either so I don’t think I am cut out to make custom clothing.
It’s not just you. There’s a lot of ego, a lot of prima donnas; it’s exhausting no? I’ve been through a lot of crazy, arrogant, dumb customers. Crazy gets press but it’s kindness, compassion, understanding and a willingness to learn that makes people successful. Believe me, it gets tiring. Even now, I get calls from people out of the phone book who have no idea what I’ve accomplished and they treat me more rudely than you’d treat a satellite-selling telephone solicitor calling repeatedly in the middle of supper, so I still do know how pattern makers are treated. It’s really amazing when you think about it. Only amateurs (or graceless, unkind people) treat pattern makers -or anyone- like that so why would you want to work for either one -especially if they don’t even pay? These people seem to come with the territory which is why most of us work through referrals (I know other pattern makers have gotten work in the forum).
One of these days, I’m going to host a horrible customer contest just to amuse myself. I’m sure everybody’s got an entry for that one.