When I started testing the potential market for this book, I stated that it would be the first book ever published on how to start your own manufacturing company. Many people who were new to the industry were skeptical and felt it couldn’t possibly be true; they’d seen a lot of sewing business books and a great many industry secret sewing method books.
Among my colleagues in the trade, the reaction was strikingly different. Third and fourth generation manufacturers were thrilled about the book. They said (with incredulity), “That’s a good idea, that’s a good idea” repeatedly. The difference between the two? Newcomers confuse marketing with the facts. People in the trade have been around long enough to know my statement wasn’t glossy advertising. They know it’s a solid fact.
So, what’s the point of bringing this up? The fact that DEs have another problem, which is due to the unavailability of real information.
Many people who enter the industry are crossing over from the home sewing end of things. They are well intentioned but they have many troublesome problems because of their backgrounds. New entrants feel their previous sewing experience affords them an advantage over others. Some feel they have a head start because they have weathered the experience of having learned to sew by themselves.
Many DEs experience unnecessary problems in production due to the use of materials from the hobbyist press. This information creates confusion, quality problems, and costly mistakes. If you fall into this category; Be afraid, Be Very afraid. Your background could actually be an enormous liability and not an advantage. The reason is that many hobbyists have digested the myths of industrial sewing that are common to the entertainment side of sewing.
This is becoming more problematic now that I work with DEs. It’s very difficult to train DEs because they’re so invested in their favorite experts. Re-training is an unnecessarily difficult job because many DEs find it nearly impossible to discard their past conditioning, but I would caution you to do so if you have this problem.
It’s only natural that people don’t want to lose faith in those that they admire. Just remember, home sewing experts are only experts at home sewing. Normally I don’t care how home sewing experts choose to amuse themselves, but I will state emphatically that entertainment value has no place in manufacturing. It’s not a matter of opinion and you can take it to the bank.
Home sewing ‘experts’ may be well meaning, but too many DEs have taken these materials as fact. In reality, these books, articles and materials are intended for entertainment purposes only. Although they’ll commonly use the terms ‘industry’ or ‘trade secrets’, be advised that the use of these terms is simply a marketing strategy designed to sell the product.
First, industrial sewing methods are bona-fide trade secrets and are legally protected, just like patents. No manufacturer will allow an author on the premises because their competitors could buy the book and learn their trade-secret sewing methods too.
Second, developing industrial sewing methods is an engineering function, which is an expensive and costly investment. The methods, processes and tools are developed in-house and are extremely valuable property. It’s common for manufacturers to produce tools exclusive to their specific requirements. Product design engineers, process design engineers and tool makers are required to comply with confidentiality agreements, which are strictly enforced.
So although authors claim their methods are “industrial, manufacturing, trade secrets” applied logic proves their claims are false. You’ll get much better information from a high quality sample maker than .
In other words, if you’ve learned ‘industry’ sewing methods from hobby sewing experts, I’d caution you to re-explore your ‘education’. Confusing these materials with the facts can hurt your business a great deal.
Hype vs. the facts
It’s nearly impossible to write a real manufacturing sewing methods book for three reasons (at least). First, special machines do most of the sewing tricks. It’s not done by a designer crouched in a corner waving a magic wand over fabric scraps. Ready to wear looks professional because it’s done by automated equipment.
Second, industrial sewing varies and not because it’s ‘whatever works best for you’. Methods depend on the type of product being manufactured, the price and the type of equipment used to sew it.
Third and most importantly of all, is the pattern. The design of the pattern determines how a product is constructed and determines the degree of quality of the finished product.
For a complete picture of real sewing industry methods, you’d need a separate book for each type of product. Any good book would have to include pattern drafting as an integral portion because it’s impossible to sew with industry methods using a pattern designed for generic use.
In conclusion, to weed out ‘marketing’ hype from the facts, a good field test would necessarily include a detailed section on pattern drafting. If a book doesn’t contain any drafts, it’s not the real thing. And I don’t care how famous the ‘expert’ is who wrote the book.
Not only are the described sewing methods a problem, but the language and terms used to describe processes are likewise incorrect. Terms like ‘sloper’ and ‘croqui’ for example, are used in colleges, textbooks, by custom clothiers and sewing ‘experts’, but it’s a grave error to use these terms in those contexts in industry.
The terminology in industry is very different and unlike the hobby industry, the trade doesn’t consider these differences to be a matter of opinion. If you depend on home sewing standards of terminology, you may alienate your colleagues and suppliers since many of these terms are considered pretentious. Worse, many in the trade won’t understand your needs since we know very little about home sewing. The trade has its own nomenclature.
A lot of misinformation is taught in colleges and universities. However, it is unfair to blame educators for this problem when manufacturers can be minimally described as ‘reluctant’ to provide worthwhile and meaningful training experiences. It’s unreasonable for manufacturers to complain of poorly trained graduates if they have not helped educators. Most educators were once designers with a limited understanding of production and they can’t prepare production workers by guessing. And in defense of manufacturers, I’ll admit it’s difficult to train interns if they already know everything and think they’re there to teach you how to do things the “right way”.
Lastly, mis-education spreads with the printed word. Individuals with hands-on technical knowledge rarely have the verbal skills to write well. Technical people are best at doing, not writing so their knowledge is rarely reflected. By default, most writing is done by generalists with good communication skills. This is why books usually reflect basic knowledge as the writer lacks the technical skills to have worked in production.
I am not critical of educators or textbooks for failing to reflect the issues of manufacturing completely, but I am critical of shamelessly, self-promoting enthusiasts, who claim knowledge and experience when they have none. I resent their misrepresentations for three reasons:
- I resent any unnecessary roadblock to success for any DE. If DEs confuse marketing with the facts, this will have a detrimental effect on their company. I resent any unnecessary impediment to a growing company.
- If a DE thinks they already have ‘the answer’, they won’t look for a better one. They will experience problems in hiring qualified people because they’ll use a yardstick that doesn’t exist. They won’t hire the people they need most to succeed.
- But most of all, I feel these ‘experts’ are insulting to the integrity and memory of the artisans and founders of this industry. The masters in the trade were brilliant mathematicians, medical scientists, and engineers. I feel their contributions have been cheapened by disrespectful and cursory people. So when ‘experts’ elevate themselves to the level of masters, they’ve insulted every professional in the trade with their comparisons.
What upsets me most is that we lose more primal knowledge every day. For example, the last groundbreaking study of human proportions was written in 1864, over 130 years ago.
Not only have we failed to progress, we’ve neglected the gifts of knowledge that others have left to us. As professionals, we’ve failed to assume our stewardship responsibilities. We have failed to retain this knowledge, improve upon it or pass it along to the next generation. We have failed miserably and shamefully.
The best advice I can give anyone is to find and rediscover the old masters and study from today’s leaders. Our industry is blessed with the visionary brilliance and insight of truly stellar minds; people like Solinger, Aldrich, Dickerson, Cooklin, Pizzuto and others. These people are experts and true examples of genius and visionary thinking. Use minds like these as the standards by which you measure yourself.