The fastest way to pattern and prototype

Being able to pattern and prototype quickly requires the right mix of people, skills, tools and most all, time. Lack any of those and you can’t speed up much. If you’re the one doing it all, your cycle time will be related to your own efficiencies and time. If you have a nicely equipped workroom (CAD, machines, cutting table etc) then there isn’t much I can tell you that you don’t already know unless you wanted to compare notes about being more efficient which isn’t what this is about. However, if you’re someone who is jobbing out the pattern and prototyping work, you may have some options to reducing the cycle time of getting approved samples.

It is possible to get one day turnaround on patterns but your provider (like me) may not realize they can do it to the extent that it would occur to them to offer the service. So, I’ll explain how it is that I do one day service so you can approach your preferred provider to see if it is an option.

The way I do it is to have the customer on site (see this for more about my factory) and we work on their product start to finish. I make the pattern in CAD (starting with digitizing the customer’s pattern if they have one), we cut it, sew it, fit it and rinse, lather and repeat for any needed corrections. We also create sample markers for costing (after rudimentary grading) so we have yield/allocation for fabric. Lastly, having done an iteration or two of sewing and with fabric estimates, we can cost it -all in my 5000 sqft factory. At the close of day, the customer is ready for a production quote. We then create a check list to proceed with production sewing services if the customer hires us to do that for them here in our sewing factory.

Arranging a one day service includes other benefits and options (speaking only for myself here). For example, I prefer to work with people who are managing their own production or would like to learn how to do it. My ideal customer is someone who wants to manufacture for themselves. Icing on the cake is someone who wants to understand the pattern process better -hopefully they have some skills and want to learn how to migrate their strengths to do their own pattern and prototyping. In short, my perfect customer is one who will not need me anymore. What can I say? I like variety and I like teaching people to be independent.

All told, this soup to nuts deal is $2150 per day with discounts for 2 or more people. I don’t know of any other providers with the experience and amenities we have but you could discuss it with your preferred provider if you gave them enough lead time.

So what are the benefits for a provider to provide this service? Well, we waste an awful lot of time if we can’t do a job start to finish and most of us are forced to work in fits and starts. We can’t do a project start to finish due to circumstances beyond our control, such as:

  • we need to confer with the customer but they have a day job,
  • the fabric hasn’t arrived,
  • we can’t fit the sample without the customer.

We lose time because we have to open the project back up, go over the notes to find out where we were before, follow the logic routine and and often, we can’t charge for that. We can only bill for whatever we do next -although there are exceptions of course. So, any time we spend going over job notes, reading the latest emails (or the ones before to make sure we didn’t miss something), finding the files and related work materials to get back into the routine is often a loss of billable hours.  So if we were to have the customer on site to do it all continuously, we could finish the work much faster or if not completely finished, have a very clear plan to tie up any loose ends quickly.

The downside for a provider is opportunity cost. This means we can’t do any other work (that could pay more) if the customer is on site. There is also the matter of disruption in the work routine and lastly, organization of the project before hand so that we have whatever we need on site (in the past, I’ve had to order new machines!) and of course, providing detailed instruction to the customer so they bring all of the work materials.

The benefit to the customer is a dramatically reduced cycle time. For customers who are needing many projects developed at once, I don’t think on site services such that I’m describing will be as useful. I think this service is ideal for a customer who only has one, two or three items needing development (you may need 2 or 3 days on site depending on product complexity). Small projects -paradoxically, can take more time because being a small job, there is greater resistance for the provider to go through the job notes to pick up where one left off because it is a tiny job that they won’t be paid to get caught up on. Tragically, the smallest jobs, can end up on the back burner indefinitely; a reality that many of you have to deal with. Anyway, if you’ve read down this far and the idea appeals to you, I don’t think it would hurt to ask your preferred provider to consider the option. If you would like to consider using my service, don’t hesitate to call me.

Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll update as needed.


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  1. Vesta says:

    I’ve worked this way with two patternmakers, with sample makers on site at the same time. I’ve even done it with Kathleen! And it is my most favoritest way to work. No question. You may think it’s expensive, but you’re just paying the costs all in one chunk, rather than dragging it out and making the project take way longer than it needs to. Try it. You’ll love it.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Actually, I think it is a lot cheaper considering all you get out of it in addition to rapid turnaround -with a full day’s consulting rolled into it. I think it is great for practitioners too because the customer is right there and can answer any questions instantly. Or if not instantly, we can quickly show the options and the customer can see the benefits of one way versus another.

  3. Your service sounds like a steal! I assume though, that the pattern is a master pattern, right? You mentioned rudimentary grading so I assume you’re not including a full set of graded pattern sizes. Does the rest of the grading happen as part of the production process?

  4. Kathleen says:

    We do whatever we have time for and yes, that often includes grading. It all hinges on the time the customer has contracted for. For example, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect the completion of a fully lined complex suit or coat, drafted, prototyped and graded -all in one day. Three days, definitely. I’ve done that several times. Two and maybe a half days actually but the remaining half day is tying up loose ends -mostly production and operations consulting.

  5. Wow. Do you work with customers who just want a pattern as a product, not a garment line? We’re committed to completing our first menswear shirt sewing pattern ourselves because we want to learn how to do the grading anyway and with this first pattern we’re not using a standard grading method. It will be fun to just get the pattern out there and see what people think of the grading and variable cut lines innovation we came up with. However, in thinking about how to make the shirt work in women’s sizes, we are less enthusiastic about using non-standard grading. The female form is so different from the male form. If you would be willing to help us then we’re definitely going to think about this! The smallest size isn’t quite ready but will be soon — it’s equivalent to a 36in chest so that could be a starting pattern.

  6. Kathleen says:

    Yep, I do that too and have several times. In fact, the last lady who came in for a class thought she was going to launch a clothing line but in the process, decided to do a pattern line. My fault I’m afraid, I redirect people to options that may be better suited to their long term goals. She’s really happy with the change and will launch soon.

  7. Chantelle says:

    This sounds like a real bargain. To take something that would drag on for months alone, and condense it down to a long weekend sounds fantastic.
    I have been desiring a class with you for some time, but felt like I wanted to learn ‘everything’. Now I realise what I actually wanted was not really a class but something more like this.

  8. Pamela says:

    Kathleen, If we decided to do this in order to create a pattern line, would you be able to direct us to vendors who would print our paper patterns and envelopes for us? I’m sort of at a loss as to how to go about this. Thank you.

  9. Raquel says:

    This is perfect! Kathleen, what project would you recommend DEs to get this service? The most difficult ones? The simple block stuff? I wouldn’t even know which project I would choose to get your guidance on.

  10. Pamela: this is another kettle of fish. I specialize in output to sewn product production, not retail patterns. That said, I know a bit from working with customers and also, there are alternative technologies and services in the apparel industry that may be helpful -depending on your goals. You might read Starting a home sewing pattern company and Starting a home sewing pattern company pt.2 as a start. I plan to launch one soon but I won’t be printing envelopes and I will plot the patterns to order. This is because I don’t anticipate massive response and so, don’t intend to sell at brick and mortar stores.

    The only problem with using apparel industry resources is that you will be expected to understand those conventions. I personally think it is worth it because you can save buckets upon buckets of money but you’ll have to do your homework (read my book) because hand holding doesn’t come with the deal. A lot of startups have had problems going that route but it is mostly their own fault. For example, this email from “Kat”

    I’m inquiring about your price list for grading and digitizing services. I am developing my business plan for Independent Patterns for the Home Sewer. Unfortunately, my experience thus far has been that industry pattern makers do not seem receptive to grading patterns for the home sewer. However, your post leads me to believe you are receptive to this business idea.

    To date, 3 of my designs have been translated professionally into first patterns. Toiles are underway.
    a) one complicated, unlined jacket. 21 pieces.
    b) princess dress – 11 pieces
    c) shirt – 11 pieces

    I would appreciate estimates for the following services:
    a) grading for 8 sizes (2-16)

    And the answers to the following:
    a) Would delivery of this information be available in .pdf ?
    b) What is the turnaround?

    I responded that there were a lot of red flags with the job, not the least of which was that it was a cut and paste job sent out to who knows how many providers. Judging from her rude and arrogant response, she was offended. If you’re likely to be offended by an industry person who fails to suck up (most just won’t bother to respond at all), or doesn’t have the most stellar social skills, this might not be a route for you either. Time and time again, consumers getting into business have no idea how to navigate B2B relationships; vendors largely only suck up to consumers (B2C) or in highly competitive industries which this one isn’t. Kat would have been better served to ask about the weaknesses of her plan and how she might go about making her plan more appealing to providers. I wasn’t going to lay all that out in my response since we never hear back from 80% of the people who write or call us, so why waste the time? It would be something else if we were all starving but most of us are extremely busy. But anyway, I’m not the least bit surprised she was having difficulty making inroads with apparel industry graders. Fwiw the worst red flag was that she said this was for a business plan -this means one would go through all the work of creating a proposal without the slightest guarantee of getting the job -or even knowing if one wanted it.

    But I digress. My services would be best suited to teaching you benchmarks and processes from production patternmaking. Using best practices from the apparel industry to organize and effectively manage the workload, is the key to consistency and the highest quality product possible. In home patterns, this process is largely hit or miss. In industry, we have defined and highly refined processes that if you follow them, leave no ugly surprises to be discovered by your customers.
    Raquel: I suggest the most complex stuff. In the initial stages, the student has to submit some sketches of proposed projects. I then come back with selections for whichever styles. I tend to select projects that provide more crossover to other styles. For example, if you only had one pant but three dresses and four blouses, I wouldn’t pick the pants. I would pick btwn blouses and dresses that shared commonalities. Part of my job is showing you how to use the commonalities across those other styles to save time and get more bang for your buck.

  11. Pamela says:

    Hi Kathleen. Thank you for the very thorough answer. I’ve had your wonderful book for years, and am now re-reading it. I’m sure that I would be able to benefit from your services when I am further along in the process. Thanks again.

  12. H. says:

    Wow! I had no idea you offer this service. This is major for those of us who are new to the whole thing. I am starting a new file folder and savings fund right now so I can be prepared to take advantage of this awesome opportunity ASAP. I will need a little time to get there and in the meantime I will keep studying your book.

  13. Lisa says:

    I would love to do this to learn the process. How does it compare to Patternworks other than the super fast turnaround? I have YEARNED for what you mentioned – a beautifully cut day dress. WHY???? isn’t it made. It doesn’t seem it should be a extinct beast! I am at the point where I will MAKE IT MYSELF as I am unable to live without it. Seriously, you are right there is junk and then crazy expensive. Loved your book, devoured it and STILL want to make my dream dress(‘s). I am willing to fly out and listen with open ears. I really want to make this with my dream sublimation designs. I need the prototype. My friends feel the same way. HELP!

  14. nahid says:

    I,m an start up. I used to make patterns based on Muller method. But it have many problems. Would you please help me about the methos?

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