Trip to LA

I don’t know what my problem is today or even yesterday. I’m feeling kind of lazy or maybe I’m coming down with something. Or maybe I’m still getting over my trip last week. Speaking of, that’s what today’s post is about while I’m waiting for more input on tech packs.

First of all, Patternworks moved since I wrote about their operation last year. They’ve moved into their own building (new construction) and everybody is happy. Last year they were spread over several offices on different floors of a commercial office building. All of their sewing machines were on the second floor -and no elevator! I took a few pictures of their equipment and set up that might help some of you down the road.

Maybe you know better than me, but I never could have guessed what this piece of equipment was for:

It’s a hard copy, pattern cutting machine. Somehow I thought it’d be bigger or more complicated looking. This is used for customers who want hard copy patterns of their CAD files.

This second photo below is of a mobile home-made ruler holder made out of a garment rack. Across several pattern makers and work stations, they kept losing their rulers. So no, you’re not the only one with cobbled together, cross purposed, custom made equipment.

The second piece of home-made equipment is this thread rack. Pretty clever, no? If you have the space, this could be a solution if you need ready access to various colors, more suitable for a sample maker I’d think. Humberto made these. He also made some cork-topped tables of which I didn’t take a picture. We had those in school, they were great.

Below is a spreader. Okay, I know you’ve seen pictures of these before but I want to bring up another point.

Many of my lovelies will do a back of the envelope analysis on whether they should make or buy a cutting table. Because their frame of reference is limited or they don’t know where to shop, they will conclude that making one is the most feasible economically. It isn’t. If you make it in this business, sooner or later, those tables you had made will either be palmed off to somebody else (most likely free to get them out the door) or broken up for other scrap lumber projects. It’s just not worth it. A hint of the reason why is below.

Spreaders have wheels. One side of the spreader sits in the groove (the “apron”), moving in a track along the table edge. Now, if you have a cutting table without the rails (mine doesn’t) you can switch those out with used parts. If you have a home-made table, most likely you didn’t think about the constraints of a spreader and the area it’ll need on either side of the table -in addition to being as wide as your widest goods- so your tables will be too narrow. Besides, without that track, how can you keep edges perfectly aligned while you spread up and down the length of the table? In other words, making a table may get you over a hump now but your long term ROI will be low. It’s better to buy real cutting tables in sections and add on as finances permit. My local resource for cheap tables dried up but Humberto knows where you can get them in Los Angeles. I’ll ask if somebody wants to know.

Another thing that is just dandy in the shop is overhead feed rail (below). This means power, electrical power. You hang the rail (also called a busway) and the outlet boxes (various types) move on trolleys. Think of it as a long electrical outlet with electrical outlet trolley cars . While useful running down the length of a sewing line, these are indispensable over a cutting table. The knife has to move down the length of the table and you can’t plug and unplug out of regular outlets on the wall as you go along. This way, you can pull the outlet box along the length of the table with the knife.

I don’t have a feed rail either. I want. I want. I lust. Lucky for me, DH is an electrical engineer who thinks these are nifty toys so it’ll be pretty painless to have one installed. Except for him quizzing me. He expects me to calculate the load. For real! I’m happy to set boxes and let him do the brain work.

Okay, now for some people pictures. Research shows people like pictures of people, not things. Maybe I should have put those first. Below is a picture of Patricia. She is their newest “sample maker”. I put that in quotes because she’s rolling with the punches and performing a wide range of duties, most recently digitizing. I spoke with her a bit. She’s really excited about her job. In most places she’d sit at a machine all day. At Patternworks, they’ll train her to do whatever she shows an interest and aptitude for. She confided in me that she dreams of learning pattern making. I don’t know if they knew that but they sure will now. I’m sending Humberto some Spanish pattern making books to nudge her along.

Below is a picture of Lina (left) and Signe. Lina is the goddess of spec packages. You met Signe last year, she’s a pattern maker.

Below is Christine (left, another pattern maker) and Lorraine. Lorraine is also a pattern maker. Don’t know if I mentioned that before. Patternworks is owned by pattern makers. No mystery why we see eye to eye, eh?

Here’s a picture of more objects (sorry). They have sitting areas like this set up all over the place. It made me long for a dog or cat. Dogs (and children on bikes) are common visitors on weekends. Some work weekends. And nights too, they run a part time second shift. They hire people for whenever they can work; there’s a shortage of good pattern makers.

Oops, more objects. This is not a photo of Anne but of her workstation. Anne works mostly from home so she can mind her two year old. Obviously, Patternworks is a flexible employer.

Lastly, is a picture of Humberto. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one with two monitors. I always feel guilty about being a monitor hog.

Okay, now for picture of Fashion-Incubator people! These were taken over brunch on Saturday before we went to the Japanese book store. Below is Anna and Birgitte (right).

Below is Susan Owen.

Below is a picture of Eddie and Joseph (right) Joseph had his design assistant with him but left before I started taking photos.

And last but not least is Grace (foreground) with Anna.

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  1. Great post!

    Re: Professional Cutting tables…I was able to score four 4′ x 6′ cutting tables at a mere $60 each on ebay. Yes, it was a major task to disassemble and move them, but certainly a bargain. I am now hoping to find a manual fabric spreader like the one pictured. I’ll be searching ebay and craigslist in hopes of finding a used one.

    The overhead electric bus picture is what I’ve been trying to explain to my electrician…I can’t wait to get one installed.

    Patternworks looks like a wonderful place! Thanks for sharing!

    With friendship,

  2. Sorry I missed seeing you. I think I was even holed up in a hotel in downtown that weekend. Which Japanese store did you go to ( I can think of at least 6 in the LA area so if your ever looking for a book let me know since I’m chummy with the owners despite being as white as casper)

  3. Thank you for the wonderful post! Just before, I’d finished reading another awful report about exploitation in our industry; you can get it from here:
    So, to read of a place where people are encouraged to expand their skills base – just wonderful! If Patricia ever reads this: a sample maker friend decided some five years ago she wanted to learn patternmaking, but decided to study computer grading first. No need to say it but by the time she got to making patterns, everything she already knew from sewing other people’s patterns (sometimes abominable, other times very good – a machinist is too often the first to know with the former) proved very helpful. So, encouragement from me all the way!

  4. We purchased a fabric cutting table (2 sections) and manual spreading machine – very similar to the one in your photos above. The information on your site is excellent, it provides me with exactly the images I was hoping to find – especially the track photo.
    We’ve just set it up and we’re trying to figure out how to use it – as it had no instructions with it. Can you post any info about manufacturers of 6′ cutting tables and spreading machines? I could send you photos of the unit if that would help.



  5. Kathleen says:

    Hi James, I’m glad to hear you say that about the photos, especially the track. This is the sort of thing I don’t think people realize is going to be incredibly helpful -indispensable really- down the road but they won’t know it at the time. It’s what I would want to see, knowing what I know.

    Spreading machines are another story. We just came back from a show with a lot of those. That would have been the place to be (SPESA). I’ve taken a few apart and put a few back together. It helps that I know what they’re supposed to do and I’ve seen them work but I’d just wing it. It wouldn’t occur to me to think this would be on the internet. I think it is not. An old sewing machine mechanic could help the same way (better) than I could.

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