I got this email from Colette Jones who doesn’t wish to remain nameless but I did remove the name of her pattern maker. Other than a few suggestions at close, I don’t have any (new or novel) answers. Maybe you will.
I had made my choice based on a few things. One, she wrote a guest entry on your site [about a show she attended], so I was thinking …“Well she must be pretty good, or she wouldn’t have been able to publish a post on the blog.” The second factor in my decision was talking with you. We had discussed some issues that raised red flags with you, but also how she was really eager to learn and try to improve, so I went forward with my decision to use her because of the third reason ….her prices are low. I don’t have a lot of money to spend on blocks and patterns so I really thought “ya know if I am going to take a chance on someone, I would really rather it be less costly for me.” This is a huge reason why I think certification is going to be great… companies are going to be tried and true.
I was really disappointed with my first sample from her. There was an extra seam in the back of the pants a couple of inches below the waist line.
I was reassured that the final pattern wouldn’t have that extra seam, that the cutter had misread the pattern. She said we just really need to see how the fit is so we can move forward. The measurements were off from what I had sent her in some areas, up to 3 inches too small. The upper thigh of the garment measured 22 inches, the measurement I sent was 25 inches. Okay, my feelers were already up at this point, but I know that nothing rarely turns out perfect the first time out so I thought I should move forward with the second sample. I was trying to keep an open mind. What was the most disappointing was that the sample wasn’t even what I would consider acceptable mostly due to the extra seam and some of the sewing. I can look past the fit being a little off because that is to be expected. Part of me says who am I to judge? I am a new DE and don’t want to make unrealistic requests putting a bad name out there for myself.
I had returned the first sample for her to be able to compare along with more measurements so she would have more to work with. When I received the second sample, I was REALLY disappointed-shocked-dumbfounded. I knew that at this point it was over for me. The pants were not what we had originally discussed. Before the thigh was 3” too small from the measurements I gave her. The hip measurement of the second sample was over 8 inches too big! The back of the waist band would barely cover my butt crack (although it was kind of hard to tell because the waist was at least 5 inches too big). The leg seams didn’t even match up. The inseam matched, but the outside seam had 2 inches hanging off the legs with no attempt to even cut it off so I have a good idea that the pattern is off too. The sample had been washed after it had been sewn (I am guessing because they were so freakin huge) because the legs twisted with the outseam ending up at the front of the shin.
The pattern that I am wanting is for leather pants with a lining, neither of the samples had a lining (which I would think is going to slightly alter the fit). I can see the first pair not having one, maybe to get close to the fit so you don’t waste materials. I have yet to see any block or pattern. I have emailed her and she has shipped the patterns to me, for which I received yet another invoice to pay another $23 for shipping of patterns that should have been sent along with the sample (after talking with you I found out that I should have had them with each sample).
I really am just super disappointed that I have wasted a few hundred dollars with not much to show for it. I realize that there are DEs out there who have lost thousands of dollars, so I shouldn’t complain too loudly, but I just have to. I’m not really comfortable with confrontation (when my knowledge base is low) so I just asked for everything that should be mine for that money I have spent, told her that I think I can make the first pair work, and would like to compare patterns for myself. However I will not pay her anymore money. What else should I do? I could keep getting invoiced for this and that and before you know it, it’s a few more hundred. I had a bad feeling about her after my first sample and when I saw the second sample I think I was in disbelief.
Like I said, I don’t have any answers. I did talk to Colette before she hired the pattern maker. I had concerns because the training of this pattern maker consisted of private lessons from a designer for “several years”. The same pattern maker also told me she wasn’t interested in learning any (more, presumably) sewing. However, she’d written me before about wanting to learn more about “commercial” (use of that word also raised flags) pattern making. I estimated her to be limited in experience but sincerely motivated to progress in her career -and I do feel experienced practitioners should encourage the less experienced. To encourage her, I’d answered the many emails she’d sent me (I find 25 responses) and in the interests of full disclosure, she’d paid for a one hour consult last year. Colette will tell you I didn’t influence her decision either way.
At the same time this was going on with Collette, another flag was raised because this pattern maker (who has the book but I don’t know that she’s read it) emailed another DE she was in the process of doing a production lot for, saying that “most contractors only have eight foot cutting tables”. Other than the fact that I was mortified she was doing production lots -I’d never consider her qualified for that- I say specifically in my book that if a contractor only has an eight foot cutting table, they aren’t a contractor. Period. An eight foot table is barely long enough for pattern making. My pattern table is twenty feet long but I’d never describe myself as a contractor because I still don’t think that’s long enough (for adult sportswear, tiny items would be okay). The DE in the latter example should have probably visited the pattern maker for a site inspection, Colette didn’t have that option. This raises the issue that certain protocols described in the book weren’t followed. I don’t want this to sound like I’m blaming anyone because it’s not that simple although I do feel service providers are accountable to higher standards. All parties in these examples had the book so they knew what the standards were.
Specifically, other than the table issue and a matter of paper medium (discussion omitted from this entry), a service provider must always include the pattern when shipping the sample to a customer. Another item that troubled me a great deal were the samples. There is just no way I’d let a sample go out the door like these were. If anything on that 2″ too long outseam, one should have trimmed the sample and corrected the pattern so the client never should have known. Also puzzling, I don’t understand how the cutter could have misread the pattern for that first sample. Personally, I suspect a pattern error. That back piecing in the photo above looks to be exactly the same width as the waistband (not that I’ve ever done anything like that, no no). Was it on tissue paper so that it could have been cut through? If it were on oak tag (like a professional would use), it would have been traced onto fabric; I don’t understand how that mistake could have been made unless the pattern itself was made incorrectly, having been broken up for piecing (which is wasn’t but should have been for leather). Besides, when I’m having a sample cut, I’m there. Either I’m doing it or I’m directly involved. And another thing, you have to inspect the cutting and match up all the pieces before you approve it for sewing (again assuming one isn’t doing it themselves).
Many many steps were either delegated (without oversight) or skipped entirely. If small details are overlooked, the large ones are too. By definition, the kinds of people most appropriate for this line of work are anal retentive. It’s okay if you want to do it all yourself -for yourself- at the outset but someone you’ve paid never should. Manufacturers who are sticklers for quality will destroy samples and prototypes that are defective. They won’t sell these as seconds (even to staff) lest a consumer get their hands on one and get the idea that all of the products from the manufacturer are poor quality. A service provider should never send anything out that would embarrass them.
There was one last red flag with this service provider. She’s trying to launch her own line. I intend no offense and I love all of you dearly but typically, designers are at their best when they’re designing and managing the whole ball of wax. Rarely are they specialized in arcane activities like pattern making and grading to the extent they can charge others for these services. Now, if you have to do these functions for yourself until you can afford to hire it out, I’m with you. I get it. However, it’s not responsible to provide services to other parties unless it’s your profession or part of your primary function. In other words, I have seen situations in which a DE is established and has some flex time in her production schedule to take on work and that’s okay but she usually has others in the organizations performing functions she can’t. In such cases, it’s more likely that she’d do it as a favor but not because she needs to unless she’s thinking of becoming a contractor rather than producing a line. Besides, barring the latter, where does the service provider’s loyalty lie? Personally, I’d have strong reservations about using the services of someone who may potentially compete with me. I’m not a paranoid person but I’d draw that line easily.
When do you cut your losses? Or rather, when have you cut your losses?