Review: The Spec Manual

spec_manual_coverNote: this review is of the first edition of The Spec Manual. I mistakenly purchased this instead of the second edition -but that’s a whole other story. To prevent you from making the same mistake, all of the links in this entry are for the second edition. At close I’ll include the publisher’s list of changes.

The Spec Manual is a textbook but could also be useful for entrepreneurs who are interested in doing a better job of garment measuring. Its focus is simple and direct; to enable a reader to detail attributes of garments for inclusion in a tech pack. There are about 10 chapters once you get past the fluff (croquis, 40 pages of them!). Handily enough, pages are perforated so you can rip out pages you don’t need or want to scan. The book includes a CD with the croquis and spread sheets (Excel and pdf). Each chapter details how to measure a given type of garment using only one sample product type. I realize that can be a rub since product features vary so widely but in defense of the authors, the selected garment examples are very complex. If you were making a simpler item, you would skip the extraneous features that don’t apply to you.

The various chapters include how to measure a skirt, pants and shorts, vest, woven shirt, dress, bodysuit and jumpsuits, sweater, tailored jacket, outerwear and a belt (that last chapter is only two pages). The second edition includes a chapter on how to measure a bra. Okay, so maybe you read through the list of chapters and think it won’t work for you but be as creative about developing your technical foundation as you are your styles. If you were making something like a short nightie with soft cups, you’d combine the appropriate attributes from the bra and dress chapters.

vest_spec_sheet1An obvious downside you may notice right away is that there are no non-apparel sewn products examples. In defense of the authors and even though sewn products are 55% of the market, that is a lot of ground to cover. On the other hand, with handbag production being as popular as it is these days (and diaper bags etc), a sample bag would have been nice. Perhaps they’ll add that if they write another edition.

Chapter organization:
Each chapter opens with a flat illustration of the example on the chapter title page, followed on the next page with a spreadsheet (Excel) form listing product attributes by number (the sample form at right was modified so it is not an exact duplicate). This form is also included in the CD that comes with the book (a nice bonus feature). The publisher says the CD of the second edition has embedded formulas to calculate measurements but I have no way to confirm this (but no reason to doubt it) as my version did not.

POM_vest2smThe next portion of each chapter includes detailed illustrations with the various points of measure clearly marked (see illustration at right). The measured lines are in blue ink, making for clear distinction. The sketches (flats) are very nice and clean, no quarrel there. Also, the authors take as much space as they need, illustrations are large and clear, running to additional pages as needed. While there is always variation among tech packs, this level of detail is fairly common in practice.

The third and last section of each chapter includes a chart with measuring instructions that are numbered to correspond to match the illustrated points of measure precisely.

The only downside in using the text is that you have to flip forward and backward a few pages to follow along. This is inherent to the process, not a weakness particular to this (or any) book. To have the three separate sections (spreadsheet, illustrations and instructions) in front of you at the same time, I recommend using the spec sheet from the CD on your computer screen. Since the pages are perforated, you could tear out whichever other page you needed (and maybe scan it) so you could have all the work pieces in front of you.

Caveats: Since this is a book for beginners (and maybe entrepreneurs), there are a few things that could be critical oversights.

Neither the book or the forms mention the size to be measured.  Again it bears mentioning that you should always work with the mid point of the size range.

Some instructions are misleading and will vary. For example, in the tailored jacket example, one is instructed to find the waist by measuring 17″ below HPS for women or 18″ below HPS for men (see yesterday’s entry if you don’t know what HPS is). I realize the authors couldn’t stick caveats everywhere but be aware that prescribed measures will differ based on the figure type and size involved. [To find the length measure of the waist from HPS for a mature adult, divide total figure height by 8, multiply the result by 2 and add another 1″ to 1.5″. See Grading for height when you know nothing about grading.]

Form design is another sticking point. Forms in textbooks seem to have similar deficits across publishers and authors so I’m not complaining about this book specifically but these three weaknesses are common:

  1. Forms contain fields that serve no purpose given the context. If you’re just starting out, everything seems equally important. Therefore, forms should be stripped of all unnecessary fields. For example, the forms in this book could almost be used as a sketch sheet, a grading specifications form and lastly, for the intended purpose of technical specifications. That is too much information for one form. If you are using forms that are part of a relational database (like StyleFile or a large company’s forms) it is no big deal but for beginners and small firms, extraneous duplicate detail should be omitted because you may avoid filling out forms that are too complex or time consuming.
  2. Omission: information fields we do use and need in real life are absent.
  3. Forms are not designed for real life. While there is no standardization per se, we all look for given information in specific places. It is a bizarre experience to have to chase words all over the page to find the most critical information about each style because fields are in the wrong place. It is also weird that fields that only need to be several digits long, are half the page width.

Second edition:
The publisher says the second edition book and CD (which I don’t have) features this additional content:

  • Instructions for measuring a fit model
  • Chapter on how to measure a bra
  • Sample garment specifications with plotted measurements
  • Grading worksheet
  • Incremental grade guides for all size ranges
  • Sample Spec Sheets and Garment Graphs
  • Excel grading worksheet templates
  • Clip art library of flats, collars, pockets, accessories, trim, and stitches

Purchasing information: (second edition)
The Spec Manual by Michele Wesen Bryant and Diane Demers
©2006, 200 pp., softcover, 9 x 12 (1-56367-373-8)
List Price is $83.00 but Amazon sells it for $64

I cannot say this book is a must buy -which is not the same thing as saying it is a bad buy. It seems expensive to me even at 30% off. However, only you know the value of your time. It is likely to expedite things for you if you don’t want to fiddle around looking for information on the web that may be of dubious quality -and getting worse every day. Speaking of, this is another good sample form. Your other option for similar information is the Vendor Compliance Handbook which I reviewed previously (also see part two). The entire second chapter provides a lot of great information.

I hope this review has been helpful.

POM: Point of Measure Codes
Things you must know if you have a clothing line: garment measuring
Creating Tables: POM Table (off site: Style File Wiki)
Giving instructions to a pattern grader pt.2
Giving instructions to a pattern grader pt.3
What is a tech pack?

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  1. Elaine says:

    Thanks for posting this review, Kathleen. After the third reading I’m finally figuring out practical uses for this sort of info (I’m not a DE).

  2. Renee says:

    Kathleen, thanks so much for posting this review. This book has been on my amazon watch list for quite some time. I still might keep an eye out in case a bargain used copy comes up.

  3. clf says:

    Boy, tech packs are definitely one of the most non-sexy aspects of the business. I also realize doing them correctly is absolutely imperative to being a professional and successful designer.

    My understanding is that measuring is a quality control issue. That the the main reason to measure is so you know that the people who are sewing your product have put it together to your exact specifications. If the pattern for your size 8 skirt is 22 inches long, you want to open a box of size 8 skirts and check a random few. If they measure to your specifications, you move the box along (no need to check the rest). If the specifications are more than a little off (don’t know if the book covers how much leeway to allow), then you check all the merchandise in the box.

    Measuring inseam or skirt length or waist is no big deal. But when you have to note 25 nitpicky measurements, it is downright headache inducing. (Just looking at the scans you’ve included makes me want to reach for some aspirin.) Someone should develop an app for lazy DEs that can measures a garment from an smart phone photo.

    I think you could weed out 99 percent of people who think they want to be designers by having them work on tech packs for just one week. They should do a tech pack trial in the first week of the next Project Runway. It would result in auf weidersehen for most of the contestants—and the viewers.

  4. Megan Plummer says:

    How do you all feel about the Grade Guide in the 2nd Edition? I have been researching other rules and doing a lot of math on my own, but it’s decision time…I have to advise the pattern makers soon. Thoughts? (Haven’t gotten to this section in the book yet…)

  5. Kathleen says:

    I would have to do a test grade and look at the nest to know. Some things don’t look quite right (across back for example) and it doesn’t make sense to me that torso length from HPS to crotch would be 1.5″ but inseam would only be .25″ when legs are half your body length or close enough to it as to not make that kind of difference.

    There are two related discussions in the forum, don’t know if you’ve seen them:
    Puzzled About ASTM D-5585 Interpretation
    Don’t buy ASTM sizing data for women until November 2011

    If you have to advise the pattern makers, why not let them guide you? Typically, our customers don’t give us grade rules… it’s happened to me once in 30 years. It would be better that you provide size specifications for the other sizes. For more on that, see What are grade specs, grade rules and grade rule libraries?

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