Why pattern makers don’t want to grade patterns

This topic comes up often enough that it should be a stand alone entry. I know I’ve mentioned the reasons why pattern makers don’t want to grade patterns before -that they don’t want to tell you- but it has been buried in other entries and I never remember which ones.

This entry is intended for the designer who doesn’t make patterns or lacks experience and or confidence and decides to hire it out. It will critical to also read Giving instructions to a pattern grader and all the links within that entry. Links to related material appear at close. Yes I know it’s a lot of reading but this can be the solution if you’re getting the run around or think you’re being overcharged so it could be worth it.

There are two possible scenarios and I will explain what each one means because they will be reluctant to tell you. The reasons a pattern maker doesn’t want to grade the patterns they did make versus why they don’t want to grade patterns they didn’t make are different.

Did make but don’t want to grade:
There are two basic reasons why they don’t want to grade patterns they did make. Either you aren’t ready or they aren’t ready.

In saying you aren’t ready, this means you shouldn’t be having patterns graded at this stage. I’ve had a lot of people come to me and want a pattern made and graded at the same time. A good pattern maker won’t want to do this. You need to have samples made, fit test them, re-tweak the pattern maybe and take a few orders before you can justify pattern grading. It’s all in my book. If they didn’t care about you, they’d do whatever you asked.

The other reason you may not be ready is if you don’t have sizing specifications for the grade you have in mind. I wrote about this yesterday. You are not responsible for creating grade rules or rule libraries but the pattern maker cannot create these for you if you have not designed or have in mind, basic sizing attributes and parameters for your product.

In saying they don’t want to grade patterns because they aren’t ready, I mean it could be they don’t have confidence in their skills because they don’t have much experience with it. Obviously you need to probe for this well before you ever hire somebody. Be really sure they’re not glossing over it (because they probably really want the job) and that you’re not sifting information that you really don’t want to hear (no one likes switching horses mid-stream).

And finally, some pattern makers don’t like grading at all. Quite a few actually but we do feel obligated to grade patterns we make so if we didn’t make it, we’re off the hook more easily. If it’s a matter of not liking to grade, the pattern maker should be able to give you referrals to grading services they’ve worked with before. If they can’t give you a referral, this is bad news and in two possible ways. Either they can’t give you a referral because they haven’t worked with a grading service (their experience is very limited) or you have been a pain in the patootie and they’re not going to pass you along to someone with whom they want to maintain cordial professional relationships. Barring that possibility because I know all of you are just lovely, referrals should be a condition of placing the work with them. In the interviewing process, they should mention who they use and be able to give you a basic idea of their pricing.

Didn’t make and don’t want to grade:
I’m going to tell you upfront that it is not for the reason that many people suspect. You think you’re being punished for not having hired them in the first place. Or -this happens just as often- you think you’re being charged extra as a penalty for the same reason. Both are defensive postures and if we’re just starting a relationship, neither is likely true. So you came to us after the fact. You did what you had to do with the best information you had at the time. No one worth hiring will hold that against you.

The main reason most pattern makers won’t grade a pattern they didn’t make is because there are often errors in it. Now, when you grade a pattern, any errors in it will grow by an order of magnitude. However, since the pattern was fine in the one size you sewed it up in -and that’s assuming your sample maker told you what you needed to hear- you will blame the pattern maker for the magnified errors. I don’t know anyone who will sign on for that. We necessarily must take responsibility for the quality of our work and redo it if it’s not right. But we cannot be responsible for mistakes that existed before it ever got to us.

Most pattern makers won’t take the work and that’s that because the only other alternative is to pay the pattern maker to check the pattern before they grade it. However, since the client may already suspect they’re being penalized for having used another service, they may think this is a strategy to make more money off of them which is why the pattern maker will not mention the option. We are painfully aware that our services can be costly so we are very reluctant to mention this option if the customer thinks we are already gouging them (and many do).

The other reason we won’t mention this option is because some clients think it is our job to check the pattern before we grade it. The customer often becomes angry. Either they say we should do it at no charge to them (“if we want the business”) or that this service is something we should do in the normal course of business and roll it into our overhead. We just can’t. If we’re only getting paid $10 per graded size times 4 sizes ($40), that doesn’t begin to cover one hour’s time to check it. Or however long it takes. If it’s a well made pattern, it usually doesn’t take as long. Correcting it can be another story. Some patterns would take so much work you may be better off having it re-made but then that’s another kettle of fish. A lot of designers really looove their pattern maker but the pattern maker may not be that great so if you say the pattern needs to be re-made, you’re questioning the designer’s judgment and their relationships. In the end it is easier to turn it down, sidestepping all the drama and not grade patterns one didn’t make.

Another reason we may not want to grade is related to why you didn’t have the other party do it. I will always want to know why. It’s usually a bad sign. Often the customer didn’t pay what was owed so they couldn’t get the job finished or the pattern maker wasn’t any good (meaning these patterns probably aren’t ready to be graded).

There are other reasons too. If your patterns are digital, the new service may not have an import filter specific to the format of your patterns or the filter may be wonky and not import properly. A possible option is to have your patterns re-digitized. Shop around, I’ve heard that some services charge insane prices, like $20 a piece. That is crazy talk.

If you want hard copy patterns but the service does mostly computer patterns, they might not want to make hard copy graded pattern sets. It is a lot of work to cut them out. If you can handle that portion of the job (I’m telling you, it is a lot of work) they might take it on. One point that Lorraine made the other day in comments is making clear to the service the kind of output you need based on your operation while still in the interviewing phase because most of the time, services only print off a nest to send to the customer for checking.

And again, a service might not take you on if you don’t have it together, aka, you don’t have size specifications. You’d be surprised how many customers will come to us and expect us to pull numbers out of thin air. Or, the customer wants what is “customary” or “most common” or “average”. There is no such animal. If there were, you would not see the broad range of sizing differences that is common at retail. Every designer on the planet knows his or her grade is the only right one (and you say we’re stubborn). A grading service can help you figure this out and possibly make suggestions but it is not our responsibility to do that. What this really means is that we don’t want to be blamed if your money was spent on something that isn’t what you had in mind. But before I digressed, if you don’t have size specs before you come to us, it will take time for us to help you figure it out. The problem is, since many customers think we can just pull numbers out of thin air or we have a vast repository of secret knowledge to cull from or we can just borrow another customer’s sizing for you (never!), they are often shocked at how costly it can be and think we’re just milking them. As I said before, we know services are expensive so we will hesitate to mention anything that will increase your costs even if we think it is best that you do it.

If you don’t know what sizing specs you want, it is best to study the sizing of existing products in the market place. Even then, you cannot expect a service to know another company’s grade (you’d be amazed how many customers think we do). I recommend that you buy a range of consecutive sizes of at least one (but more is better) identical style and take them to be measured by the pattern grader who can then reverse engineer the grade. You could always do the measuring yourself but then the service would be wary of whether you measured the way they would or even the points of measure they would need. I’m not saying you aren’t qualified to do this but it is a statistical fact that you can have three different people measure the same body and they will come up with three different sets of measurements. True story.

What are grade specs, grade rules and grade rule libraries?
Sending patterns off for correction
Giving instructions to a pattern grader
Giving instructions to a pattern grader pt.2
Giving instructions to a pattern grader pt.3

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  1. Quincunx says:

    Maybe grading costs looking rather cheap after the sticker shock of a pattern is contributing to the problem. I know I wasn’t adding in “time enough to check the pattern to make sure grading isn’t going to make it unusable” (take note home sewing pattern companies) (and they’re starting to do so) (Vogue is hiring, btw) and with that cost hidden, after committing to paying $Q for a production pattern, paying Q + R for grading it at the same time starts to look tempting, wrong though it may be.

    Also, a general thanks for returning to the definition topics for a few days, they were indeed needed, and “sending patterns off for correction” is currently the old style, broken link.

  2. Rocio says:

    What an eloquent way to summarise all the reasons why we don’t usually don’t take work from 3rd parties whose standards we don’t know…

    We always turn away people who find out that we specialise in FULL PACKAGE but only want us to make samples and CMT using patterns or markers from dubious origins…

    Most of the potential production issues are worked out at the first pattern stage (BEFORE the prototype is even cut) so if we haven’t been involved at that CRUCIAL stage, we simply don’t have enough information to commit to deliveries
    The only way we can turn around samples in 2-4 days and CMT in as little as 2 weeks is that we have FULL CONTROL…. Otherwise we would be spending most of our time backtracking issues and NOBODY WANTS TO PAY FOR THAT :-(

  3. anne says:

    I’m a patternmaker and designer…I don’t like to grade because if I do grade it is by hand, no Dario, no computer . It is not a good use of my time and expertise. I send my grader a pattern that has been checked and doubled checked by myself and the sample hand. Also, I am sort of old school. I worked in the industry when the sample hand and the grader tracked your work and double checked its accuracy. I think it’s always beneficial to have checks and balances…just like the government.

  4. I rather enjoy grading, by hand or computer. As said above, a pattern would have the kinks worked out before grading (or there is little point to grading it). If a pattern is made from an existing pattern (in a computer) then the grade is carried over (but should be checked).
    If I am sent a pattern (one I didn’t make) – sometimes I am asked to check it out, but more often I am told to leave it alone and just grade it- so I assume all is well. There have been cases in which all wasn’t well and eventually the sewing floor will come to me with the problem(s). I do take full ownership of my work… and it bugs me when issues arose from the outside pattern on our sewing floors.
    I report the situation and usually seek permission to correct the pattern (and usually, I am granted that permission.
    I may have gotten off subject * gulp *
    I enjoy grading patterns. And making them. And developing (experimenting with) prototypes (design).

  5. Seth Meyerink-Griffin says:

    Hmmm. This raises a few questions.
    As far as computer grading with hard pattern output, I understand that most services will print a nested pattern so that the grade can be checked; can the plotters/printers that they use for the nested pattern be printed on oaktag (at additional cost for both materials and shipping) so I could cut the graded patterns myself? This assumes that I believe there’s a benefit to having an oaktag pattern when the work was done digitally, which is probably crazy-talk.

    As far as grade rules go, I’m currently using Alva standard series forms. Alva is pretty good about sizing specs for their forms. If my pattern was drafted for a given size, and it fits the fit model correctly, is it possible to create grade rules based solely on the form specifications?

  6. Kathleen says:

    Re: plotting on oaktag. I don’t believe one can use a standard plotter to do it -the paper is too heavy to travel the feed path. I suppose one could try it out… not me tho… I’m having a love-hate relationship with my plotter as it is (and it’s all my fault, I’m the one causing the problems in this relationship). The better option is to plot to cut. There are machines that do that. I’d heard those were pricey (25K) but recently, someone mentioned a machine as only being 6K. “Only” being comparative obviously.

    There is a benefit to having oaktag patterns even if the work is done digitally. I think it is really the only way to go for a small company that is growing by in-house sewing (which I think offers tremendous competitive advantages once you nail it down).

    If my pattern was drafted for a given size, and it fits the fit model correctly, is it possible to create grade rules based solely on the form specifications?

    I doubt it altho those measures could be a useful guideline. Your rules will vary from the strict measures of the form based on material behavior, silhouette etc.

  7. Rocio says:

    Our small Ioline plotter has the capability to plot on oaktag, but it’s a slow process (slower than plotting on paper) and the pieces still need to be cut out.

    95% of our accounts are remote, so they either prefer CAD files or paper.

  8. Grading is a snap now for Pattern makers with the Arrow Grading function in PAD Software.
    It acts like an automatic Dario machine. You don’t have to deal with Grade points, X-Y Axis, decimals. It works with Directional arrows, fractions of an inch. The Pattern makers love it and they can make more money providing grading without pulling their hair out with Point-by-Point grading, X-Y axis movements and decimal measuring.

  9. Santosh says:

    We grade patterns even if the pattern was made by someone else. As long as we have detailed tech pack measurements with sketches or a sample , grading can be easily achieved.

    Most of our clients from USA send us either tech packs or a garment for which we make a pattern and then grade it. We later email the graded patterns back to them. They can either print it out at a print bureau close to them or we can courier the printed or cut patterns to their office.

  10. Colleen says:


    My head is about to explode. Our pattern makers use PAD (V 4.5 & V 5) and our cutters use Gerber (V 7.6 & V 8). The .dxf & .rul aren’t being read on our Gerber file people, and our PAD people have contacted PAD to ensure they are exporting correctly.

    My hands feel tied and I have been looking for someone to help with this. We have reached out to Smart Pattern Making and LA Patterns & Marking and neither have been able to help us. I need someone who I can count on to open PAD files and save them in the proper gerber format so that we can continue to work with our longstanding pattern makers and cutters. If you have any advice, any direction you can point us in to find someone like this- please let me know.


  11. Kathleen says:

    Well, the file versions of the respective programs aren’t too old… is this a recent problem?

    The problem may be related to file conversion. Can your patternmakers get the gerber export filter? That’s one up from a generic dxf export. The reason I suggest that is because gerber is rather ubiquitous, akin to Mohammed going to the mountain, and would be very useful for their business.

    Have you tried contacting Kristine to see if she’ll convert the files for you? A lot of software vendors will for a small fee. So sorry you’re having this hassle. One of our forum members is a huge PAD fan girl; she’d probably help out -are you a member?

  12. Vesta says:

    I have been amazed at how fast our head patter maker has taken to digital grading using StyleCAD. Granted, she has a couple of decades of experience grading on paper. But it just took a couple of lessons for her to grok the digital process. And it is so much faster than manual grading, mostly because she doesn’t have to cut out all of those patterns! She spends much more of her time on high-skill pattern work than busy work, as we shift more work to the computer.

    As far as checking and correcting patters, she has me interacting with clients, and I have NO problem telling them they need to pay us to fix sloppy work. I see a lot of apparel technicians donating time because they “feel bad” for designers or they don’t want to have difficult conversations (waste of valuable time) and it is just easier to do the work and not mention it. But I am trying to build a company, not a sole proprietorship. My primary concern is building a sustainable living for folks involved in our company, and we do that by providing great service, not donating our time.

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