The quality check nobody knows -markers & cutting

[It’s not true that nobody knows this quality check but few do and this title sounds more dramatic and thus clickable!]
In my book, I mention that you should always get the pattern pieces left over from the marker cutting. This is for two reasons. The most important one is the first step to ensuring quality which I’ll tell you about today using an all-my-fault  example. The second reason is if you’re paranoid and worrying about the contractor using your patterns; see the note at close for more on this. By the way, I should remind you that quality means adherence to specification -that’s it.

Preamble dispensed with, in yesterday’s post I mentioned I was making a jacket for Mr.Fashion-Incubator. It is a repeat of the one I made for him in 2004 when he was still my boyfriend. It is a basic lettermen’s jacket with a wool melton body, collar, contrasting sleeves, zip close and ribbed cuffs and waistband. Anyway, I made the marker, Martha cut it out and started fusing it -and that’s where the trouble began. The melton was shrinking very obviously which puts the brakes on the whole affair as far as sewing it together. Our guess is that this wool wasn’t the kind we’ve always used (in fact, it started pilling terribly and I’ve never seen that) so to get an idea of how egregious the shrinkage was, we compared it to the leftovers from the marker. Which we save, always, and you should too. As terrible as the project was going, I thought it would be good to show you.

In the photo below, the left pane shows the front pattern piece left over from the marker. In the right pane is the cut fabric piece laid on top of the pattern (that’s how you check these things). Red boxes highlight the troublesome areas.

In the right pane, you can also see some darker shading where the iron passed. I have never seen that with a melton. Below is another photo showing a close up of the problem areas. With a zipper running the full center front, the collar wasn’t going to fit in much less the zipper.


Before we move forward, maybe I should explain acceptable cutting. This post is a good refresher but I’ve also provided two samples of patterns cut from markers. The one directly below is a bad example.


We didn’t cut that, it was done by a contractor I know. Strange thing is, the cutter was doing a good job when I was in the plant but when I wasn’t… I guess she never thought anybody would check up on it by asking for the patterns from the markers but I always do. But I digress. Directly below is a photo of a pattern cut from a marker -Martha cut this one. This is a good example of cutting. You don’t see any white area hanging off the cutting line.


The above was from the jacket described in this post.

Returning to the subject of keeping your marker pieces as an insurance policy for quality, we knew the cutting was good. We were able to gauge how badly the melton was shrinking in pressing by laying it on the piece. All told, it shrank about 1/2″ in length.  There is no way this jacket was going to go together neatly with pieces matching.  By way of comparison, below is a photo of an unpressed portion of the jacket (the back) laid on top of the pattern piece. You can’t see any of the pattern sticking out. In fact, I curled up one corner so you could see that the pattern was laid underneath.


The long and short of this discussion is that if you get a non-conforming result -your product is not meeting the specifications- checking the sewing but not the cutting is like locking the barn after the horse is stolen. In fact, you may have had this problem already. You’ve turned the product inside out and all the seams were done properly but the item was still off. Chances are excellent that it happened in cutting and if it wasn’t there, it was in fusing before it went to the sewing lines.

While the example shown in today’s post could certainly be described as a case of “do as I say, not as I do”, this could have been prevented with pre-testing. Namely, test fusing a piece to measure the shrinkage. We didn’t do that because us bein’ experts an’ all, knew this was one fiiine length of melton. Ha ha. For personal projects, I typically wash the goods before I cut but I was seduced by the fine smooth finish of the wool and didn’t want it to get nubby like boiled wools (which I usually prefer). Serves me right.

So now I’m back to square one. I overlocked all the edges of the cut pieces, overlocked the two ends of the remaining yardage and threw it all in the washer. It’s drying now. I’m left with a green body that will be too small for Mr. F-I and I have no idea what I’ll do with it. Maybe I’ll sew it up and auction it off. That’s what sample sales are for the most part, unloading questionable goods. I’ll recut the body from the washed yardage. Good thing I had extra. It is so horribly embarrassing to be a professional men’s coat maker and your man is ragging around in a jacket you made back when you still needed to impress him.

Again, your takeaways are:

  1. Get the cut pattern pieces left over from the marker. Make it one of your deliverables.
  2. When inspecting (maybe even measuring) your finished products and nothing seems amiss but its not meeting specifications, check the cutting.
  3. And of course, shrink test your goods before you cut. If the item will be dry cleaned, dry clean a length. If it will be washed, wash a pre-measured length so the pattern will be cut to compensate. Definitely check pressing shrinkage (unless it won’t ever be pressed, even in process).


*Closing note if you’re paranoid: Getting the pieces left over from the marker doesn’t guarantee a bad operator won’t be able to copy your pattern so you’re better off finding someone you can trust. If this is a one-off job with a company you’re not sure about, also request the wax paper underlay that was used to spread your fabric; this will also be cut to shape of your pattern pieces. If someone is determined to do you dirty, there is no real way to prevent it unless you’re at the factory watching them. All they have to do is spread an extra layer of paper that you’re not accounting for and use that.

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  1. katyrenee says:

    Very interesting. Thank you for sharing!

    The one question I have, why did you do the pattern in paper? I thought you always used tag? Is it because you only plan on making one?

  2. Avatar photo

    This is a marker plotted from a CAD pattern. By definition, it is soft paper. I was trying to make the point that you check the cut pieces from the plotted marker against the result mid process. You’re far from a newbie so if you didn’t understand that, plenty of others didn’t too. If you have the time, can you clarify the confusion so I can improve the post?

    But to answer your other indirect question, if I make a manual pattern, you are correct, it is always in tag.

  3. theresa in tucson says:

    Kathleen, you said Martha was fusing the shell. Could it have been that the tricot was doing the shrinking as well. I have had so much tricot fusible shrink visibly in length that I hover the iron over the interfacing and steam it good and proper before applying it to face fabric. Of course I’m using what I can find at Hancock’s or Joann’s but I’ve even had pricier stuff shrink in length.

  4. Katyrenee says:

    Thanks for clarifying. You answered my question, I’m not sure any further clarification is needed.

    My only other comment is posts like this make me very nervous to move forward with manufacturing. A lot of your posts point out the potential pitfalls that can take place, but in my head they will all happen. Makes it difficult to take that leap!

  5. Kathleen says:

    T: you’re right, fusible is often a culprit whether tricot or whatever. On this I used another type. Tricot was out of the running because it isn’t ideal for fabrics that need high temp pressing.

    I washed and dried the cut garment pieces and the leftover yardage. The amount of shrinkage was shocking. Using the back piece for comparison, it shrank 3″ in length and 1″ in width… I plan to post a photo of it but it segues into another topic and so, will have to wait until next week. A bit of experimentation is involved too.

    Katy: I know what you’re saying but you can’t let fear stop you. Put it this way, you’ve read many horrible things related to raising kids and we end up with a lot of terrible adults but you did have a child :). IMO, controlling for potentially bad outcomes is far easier in clothing manufacture than in raising kids.

  6. nowak says:

    Thank you for your this.

    I will print it out and hang it on the wall.
    Because from time to time some of my home sewing friends come with non matching seams and ask me, why the pattern was wrong (and if I could fix it, of course).
    And they don’t understand, why I am not looking at their odd seam, but want to see the pattern sheet and their traced pattern first…
    (Here home sewers mostly use pattern mags like burda, so we have to trace the pattern.)

  7. Colleen says:

    For KatyRenee: My advice is to start small and take good notes. Over time, you’ll be able to anticipate where the mfr problems are likely to be and address them before going into production.

  8. Nicole says:

    Thanks Kathleen! I didn’t think of it on my very first run, but asked for them way later and they had already thrown them out. Next time I will get them!

  9. Adrienne Myers says:

    So this is printed out on Cad paper, from a digital pattern. Do you recommend marker making for one off runs or would comparing it to your master or tag pattern suffice?

  10. Avatar photo

    A: follow the link to “marker” in the first sentence; there is information there to help you decide if you should do one off runs. Also, the question shouldn’t be limited to cad generated plots, you should check the cutting of handmade markers too.

    I don’t understand the second part of your question. Are you asking whether you should compare the marker output to the tag pattern? That is a separate issue. Checking whether the plotter/cad program outputs identical to the tag dimensions is another subject and is related to whether the digitized pattern was tweaked after digitizing (probably should be) or whether the plotter is correctly calibrated. I’m not suggesting your question is immaterial only that the subject of this post was intended to check the quality of cutting.

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