Why pattern makers resist learning CAD

I’d intended to post my last Magic post today and then go onto to finishing up our mitten contest (I still have two unposted entries) but I left my stack o’ stuff at home. Lucky you. So instead, I’m posting tomorrow’s entry today. This is in reference to some emails I got when I was on the road. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I got these two messages, coincidentally back to back. Consider the first. Donna admits she’s “a new pre-production manager for a dress firm in L.A.” and asks…

I’m looking for a better spec sheet writing method that we have now…Also, advice on what level of expertise a spec sheet writer must have given that we have excellent, though “old school”, pattern makers. My other major issue is getting our old school flat patternmakers to accept the changeover to CAD. Our top PM recently walked out after just seeing a Gerber rep in the department. We have her back but….you see the problem. Anything you can offer would be much appreciated.

My first suggestion was that she -especially being new- get the book but no dice as of yet. She’s only written back to reiterate her first requests. I’m also sensing a negative attitude with regard to “old school” pattern makers. But maybe that’s just me. Email can fall flat. Still, being an old school pattern maker myself, I can understand why she’s experiencing conflict with the staff. It would be very difficult to work with a supervisor who doesn’t know anything about the business or deprecated my years of experience and it doesn’t make sense that she insist pattern makers learn new things while she resists doing it herself. Still, I know lots of reasons why a pattern maker would resist -what’s the platform? What’s the product? And yes, there are pattern makers who can beat a CAD operator; why not just digitize those patterns in? But I digress. Back to the two messages coming in back to back and whether I should laugh or cry, here’s the other message from an “old school” pattern maker (edited to omit the guilty parties). Also, the added emphasis is mine:

I have been in the industry all my life, I started with production sewing in a company that produced bras and ladies foundations, worked my way up around the floor and cutting room, made markers manually, also spread and cut. I decided to go back to school to learn design and pattern making, I loved the patternmaking better than the design, landed a pattern job right away with a manufacturer of sportswear knits. There I manually drafted (in the 80’s) first patterns, production patterns, graded, did spec sheets and diagrams, also made markers and some sample sewing. This lasted for ten years most of which was pattern drafting. That company downsized, then closed. Next I did patterns for a local children’s PJ manufacturer and womens underwear company where I also learned about silk screening designs in a dept where I needed to mark the placements on my patterns for the cutting room and the pressers. Well that place is now a distribution center, including the bra factory as well. So I went on and landed a position with [World Famous Quality Outerwear Manufacturer] near my hometown. There I did first patterns, production patterns, specs, grading, fit sessions, worked with all the designers, (they are in house, the other places I had to contact them in the NY offices) I worked with the sample sewers, fabric designers and with the offshore accounts. I did women’s and men’s sportswear, dresses, shirts, skirts, pants, and most of all very complex outerwear and of course beautiful wools, which most were plaid with 50 pieces that had to be matched for the markers, through to down filled parkas with about 100 pieces and fur ruffs,etc…… worked with them for about 8 yrs. Then I guess you could say I burned out…..I resigned…..from a great position, but I could not concentrate anymore.

The reason is, when I was at World Famous Outerwear Manufacturer, we used Gerber Accumark, then went to [Shall Remain Nameless] CAD system which I think is a joke. After I left they went back to Gerber (I heard) because they had a hell of a time converting files to send offshore plus out to the cutting room so I guess that never did happen. After [Shall Remain Nameless] CAD system came and gave them a song and a dance about why they were the best, well I’d say they could sell roller skates to a snake with their sales crap and World Famous Manufacturer bit, hook, line, and sinker! Well one reason I left there was my manager said I was refusing to learn [Shall Remain Nameless] CAD system, that was not true, I did learn the CAD but I didn’t like it as much as Gerber, plus up until then I was able to manual draft some designs then digitize pieces into Gerber, after we got [SRN] CAD system my manager would not allow manual drafting at all, (he knows nothing about pattern making). He wanted us to do everything on the [SRN] CAD system because we just bought so much of it, 6 stations. Well I argued of course, that it is faster to draft maybe the first pattern or parts of it then put it in the system. finish it up and grade it from, which I know is faster. He just would not listen. One day he asked me when a certain pattern design I was working on would be done, and I asked him that depends. If I draft it on the table or in the system, on the table would be much sooner. He informed me that I needed to learn the system and create it with that, so I told him how much longer it would take and he didn’t like it. I guess he thought then I was resisting to learn the [SRN] CAD system. So on and on, and finally the stress drove me nuts and you know the rest. So needless to say, they just split my workload between 3 others after I left although the others worked overtime and long hours for a really long time (I heard) and when it gets to be the busy part of the year, they work their butts off again….Sorry about the long letter, I didn’t mean to vent….

Venting about CAD systems and supervisors aside (I know many of you commiserate), it’d be great if we could explain the reasons why otherwise reasonable people will resist the adoption of new technologies. I have my own ideas on how the needs and demands of the two can be melded but what can you offer from your own experience?

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  1. Laura says:

    It might be more interesting to ask why _do_ people adopt new technologies — or, at least, more useful.
    What I’ve found (in my user interface design experience, and my tech support experience) is that people don’t like any technology that gets in their way — and there are two kinds of getting in the way, too.

    There’s the kind where it’s just a steep learning curve, but at the end of it, everything is easier and better than before. (I tend to feel this way about things like Adobe products — figuring them out is sheer hell, but once you have them figured out, you can churn away like mad, turning out awesomeness at a high rate.) I find that, with these products, you can often tell that there’s going to be something wonderful once you’ve learned it — you can kind of feel it.

    Then there’s the kind where it’s just ALWAYS hard, no matter what you do or how much time you’ve spent learning the product. If absolutely forced to use these products, people will develop elaborate workarounds and superstitious rituals (and, maybe, carefully detailed documentation). And if they aren’t forced to use it…they mostly won’t.

    We had this situation at my current employer, a university: we had an officially “supported” email client, but we allowed people to use whatever client they liked. The supported client was always getting in your way and rewriting your preferences and generally acting screwy.

    Faculty and staff, who usually got direct technical support from university IT, mostly used it (they “had” to, or no email help for them). Students, who mostly *didn’t* get direct technical support…didn’t use the supported email program. It got in their way too much, so they went with lower-stress items.

  2. Esther says:

    I don’t know if I should laugh or cry too. I LOVE CAD, as most of you know, but I recognize when things should be done by hand. I still do some hand drafting and manual grading. Those are important skills to have. What would you do if your computers died and you still had to get work done?

    Obviously, a supervisor can make the difference. A supervisor should give some flexibility in how a job is done. Having someone stand over your shoulder dictating how a job (that you have done well for the last several years) should be done does not create goodwill. Everyone needs a little more patience when transitioning to a new technology. I am always eager to learn something new as long as it doesn’t interfere with my current work. I am happy to incorporate something if it really will make things move more efficiently. It is easy to see in the emails above that equipment was purchased without consulting the actual people who would be using it. Perhaps these employers do not respect and understand that patternmakers are more than mere technicians, but engineers in their own right.

    One more thing… I think supervisors are eager to put a new CAD system to use ASAP because of the high cost. Having high dollar equipment sitting around doing nothing is a drain on the bottom line. The big daddies of the apparel CAD world really need to lower their prices, IMHO.

  3. Miracle says:

    I’m just going on a limb, and I could be wrong, but I get the impression that either most patternmakers are too technical to be able to effectively articulate their issues in “business speak” or they are not respected enough to be taken seriously. I’m not sure that time is as much of an attention grabber as money, however, I have often found that between those who are management and those who are technical, the communication is so difficult that they might as well be speaking different languages.

    I can see why she would be hesitant to adapt the technology. I don’t draft patterns, but there are times where things are easier accomplished manually than with fancy software. For instance, changing the HTML within a page is often faster in a text edit program than opening up full website authoring software.

    Unfortunately, as overseas contracting becomes more pervasive, companies will insist that the entire process be digital. After all, there are numerous advantages to a digital workflow. The graphic design industry (and regular CAD) has been using it for years, and eventually it will filter over into patternmaking, especially at large companies. I am a firm believer, though, that if you are going to insist on technology, then the end users should be the ones to decide which package you go with. Otherwise, it’s like making your car driver learn to drive a bus because the bus is so much “slicker”.

    But to answer the question about why people are hesitant: Kathleen, you write that the first company is in LA. Which means a high likelihood that their patternmaker is Latina/o (that’s common in So Cal). I wonder if it is a case that she/he can do the pattern work quite well, especially since it’s a numbers thing, but she/he is not quite fluent enough with writing/reading English to work with the software. That is my first thought, LMK what you think.

  4. Humberto says:

    There is not denying the tremendous potential of time savings that CAD offers. However between the selling tactics use by CAD companies (promises of increase productivity in days or weeks) and the inability of “management” to create a comprehensive implementation plan; all this creates all kinds of apprehension from all future CAD users not just pattern makers. CAD systems have come a long way but there are many things that pattern makers must still do by hand. Another obstacle is the speed of technology advancements and the deterioration of technical knowledge in our industry. During the last couple of decades we (as a country) have been slowly killing our technical foundation. Now day you hear companies hiring “Technical Designers” left and right, and lots of people get hire in to these positions just because they are computer savvy not because they have a solid technical base. As domestic manufactures keep closing pattern rooms, sample rooms, etc. in exchange for off shore manufacturing; a lot of pattern makers see CAD systems as a treat because the typical progression is:
    1 Company buys CAD
    2 Productivity obviously decreases (for a while)
    3 Unrealistic management expectations are not met (due to poor implementation)
    4 Company starts out sourcing
    5 Company blames pattern makers (when in reality should blame management)
    6 Pattern makers quits or is let go
    7 Company hires pattern makers off school (computer smart but not solid technical foundation
    8 Company switches CAD
    9 Company closes pattern room and outsource it

  5. julia says:

    As an architect who is also of the old school, I had done all of my drafting by hand on the boards. I love to draft and see it as an art form.
    I left the corporate world about 10 years ago when I had my children, at this time the CAD system had been in place for many years. I never used it but the way our office worked ,was that we hired CAD drafters, they were not architects they were CAD workers, the architects would give them their hand drawn sketches and they would put them onto the CAD.
    I also used to say , I can draft it faster on the boards, but guess what… the CAD proved to be much more efficient.
    One of the reasons that I resisted learning it (and to date I still have not learned) is the learning curb. First of all the ten plus years ago when it was first introduced I really did not even know how to create a file or email or anything related to the compuer and I really did not have the extra time needed to learn about computers let alone learn how to use the CAD.
    During the past ten years that I have been raising my children, I would stay up late and teach myself how to work on the computer, I can even do a little bit of drafting on Publisher (which really is not the best software for drafting). You would think that I would have taken this time to learn the CAD sytem, but still I have resisted. I think I resisted because I really have no interest in drafting on the computer and also I have been trying to break into the manufacturing buisness.
    Even in the manufacturing/design buisness I see the benefits of CAD drafting. I have been doing my patterns by hand but now that my youngest is in school full time I need to take a class and learn how to use CAD and other software programs like adobe etc. You can resist all you want but our world is changing very quickly and you have to keep up to remain competitive. Finding the time while you are working full time is the biggest hurddle.

  6. Todd says:

    So where can I buy a used a CAD system and make myself employed? I don’t have any managers or employees to argue with. I know CAD is cheaper than it used to be. I bet there will be a lot of independent CAD patternmakers cropping up out there to support all the DEs cropping up.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Again, Todd, I’m with you on the used pattern software- the prices are insane for the small guy- or can buy a good one for multiple users and split the cost between a few people; or and rent out the space- software included to other patternmakers when not used. Of course, that would mean getting patternmakers in the same area. The costs for rental might take away from the individual patternmaker’s profits, so maybe getting everyone to chip in when buying the software in the first place would be better- then you have part ownership and can use whenever you need it- provided you can install it on multiple computers.

  8. Kathleen says:

    Great comments everyone! I’d like to reiterate that I’m interested in implementation suggestions for a future post. The thing is, three things have to balance; the interest of employers, the interests of pattern makers and the interests of CAD companies. Unfortunately, my ideas toward implementation won’t make the CAD companies happy because they want to install a bunch of systems and I favor a gradual roll out…and if we can’t make the CAD companies happy or convince them otherwise, we won’t get them to come on board with regard to serving the needs of (often) smaller companies.

    Todd, you’d think that with all the designers and pattern makers frequenting this site (and the forum), we’d get more attention from the CAD companies or resellers. Sally seems to have an angle on used systems, lemme ask.

  9. Big Irv says:

    I too wonder why more CAD companies would not be jumping all over this opportunity to serve this segment of the market.

    In my opinion,it is not just the designers and pattern makers who can benefit. A large percentage of contractors do not have any CAD systems in place. I know that if they were to install a system plotter to make markers, this would make things easier for the designer when producing bulk orders.

  10. Todd Hudson says:

    Referring to Elizabeth’s comment on patternmakers sharing use of expensive software, there are ways to do this. One is to install it on a server that people can sign into remotely. Another method is to use a “screen-scraper” that you use to control a machine remotely. Plotter or scanner hardware would still have to be in a central location unless you can rent time on them locally from a bigger outfit.

  11. Mike C says:

    I too wonder why more CAD companies would not be jumping all over this opportunity to serve this segment of the market.

    My experience has been that they do. Optitex and PAD both aggressively sought to win our business when we were looking at CAD systems.

    In my opinion,it is not just the designers and pattern makers who can benefit. A large percentage of contractors do not have any CAD systems in place. I know that if they were to install a system plotter to make markers, this would make things easier for the designer when producing bulk orders.

    We wouldn’t even consider using a contractor that didn’t have a CAD system inter operable with ours. There’s just too many time-consuming and error-prone steps involved in sending little pieces of paper around the world.

    As for the whole issue of technology adoption, I’ve often found that there are more than one side to a story.

    I have trouble convincing temporary employees to iron a pair of pants they way they should be ironed. I’ll show them how to do it, and then I’ll come back 15 minutes later and they are doing it their own (slow) way again. If a temp worker will dig her heels in and resist learning a new way to iron, I can only imagine the difficulty involved in getting an experienced professional to change work practices.

  12. Babette says:

    I’ve learned both manual and CAD patternmaking and I find manual beats CAD every day for one reason – whatever I’m working on is full size on the piece of paper in front of me.

    Shrink to fit the piece on a screen and by eye, it’s much harder to tell if a design line is in the right place. I know there are all kinds of measuring tools available, but in full size, I can just see it.

    Of course give me electronic grading every time.

  13. J C Sprowls says:

    This is a side note:

    My paper supplier recently rescinded an order for 200-lb (4X) oaktag citing that they have discontinued the product because CAD cutters need the lighter weights.

    I am, personally, not opposed to technology. But, the preliminary research I’ve done with setting up a CAD outfit for a custom- or limited-run shop are cost-prohibitive. Plus, as MikeC raises, compatibility with contractors’ systems is a business risk.

    Is a reasonable suggestion to speak with your contractors to determine which flavor of CAD is most compatible with the DEs supply chain?

  14. Trish says:

    I make patterns manually and on a CAD system. I also teach both of these skills in the Fashion Technology program of El Paso Community College.

    I have also worked with local patternmakers for years and I have attended several week long sessions on various CAD packages with these patternmakers.

    With this background I feel that I have been observing man vs. machine for well over a decade.

    When a patternmaker has much of his/her esteem tied up in their skill, it is very difficult to get them to “go back to square one”. When using a CAD system for the first time, many people can feel diminished… their precious skills seem compromised because they are having to learn a new way to express those skills. If you barely speak a second lanquage you often feel foolish when you speak in that language…yet you communicate freely in your first language. Sometimes you will not even speak the second language for fear of humiliation. To me, this is much like asking a great patternmaker to relearn everything on CAD (I agree it has to be done, but how tactfully can we make it happen?)

    Kathleen, in the first email, it sounds like the new boss is a bit arrogant and inexperienced …and I am not surprised that the patternmakers are resisting any ideas that come from that boss. Negotiation is a business skill that has to be developed. If the patternmaker were given more respect, I personally believe she/he would be more willing to “go back to school” for the CAD knowledge.

    Production schedules are realities that push every industry worker. It is no suprise to me that a patternmaker often wants to use “known” skills to get the job done quickly. If a company wants a patternmaker to go CAD, time needs to be alloted for the learning curve. (Don’t laugh, it is true, even if seldom done.)

    Having taught CAD for over ten years, I can say that many people do not know “how to learn”. Too many students try to memorize which keys to hit or when to click a mouse… when in reality it is necessary to learn how the CAD system intersects with patternmaking and pattern correction. A CAD system is just a tool and almost every tool needs to be “finessed”. Learning the “exact notes” from one song does not make you a musician.. it is learning how to use the notes and rework them into different songs that makes a musician. If a CAD learner takes the broader approach to CAD the learning will be more complete and the machine will become a treasure to the user.

    One final note: I went to “CAD school” with a fabulous manual patternmaker… you could check every one of his hand drawn curves with a navigational ruler and each curve was perfect… it was actually wonderful to see. When I was trying to help this person learn how to draft in the computer it was amazing. The person could not see how the rectangle created in the computer was the same as a piece of paper that would serve as the basis of a pattern. Logic does not always transfer, especially when self-esteem or ego are on the line.

  15. Gretchen says:

    FYI: I just saw TUKA software available for rental from $150 a month. A portion of the rental price can be put towards the purchase price ($7500) for the first three years of rental. This seems like a good way to try CAD without a huge upfront investment. It looks like really good software for DE’s with 3D modelling features. Any feedback on this product?

  16. J C Sprowls says:

    Thanks for that info, Gretchen. A hosted CAD solution might be a good fit for small-scale DE shops.

    Does anyone have recommendations for the types of tablets that are used to capture/digitize the patterns? Kathleen mentioned that Amy @ FitCouture uses a portable device. I believe she mentioned it can be “rolled up” and slid into a briefcase (?).

  17. Kathleen says:

    Hi Gretchen. Re Tukatech, use the search feature on this site to get a blow by blow on their product line. Esther and Angela wrote a two part CAD series on how to select a cad system. You mention the rental is $150 a month, I’ll have to check into that. For some reason, $500 is what sticks in my brain (not saying that is right obviously).

    JC, I haven’t seen Amy’s set up. I only know what Mike has said. He did mention something about it being portable but I think the briefcase reference applies more to the laptop upon which the software is installed than the mat. The mat could still roll up and being light weight, easily transported but a digitizing mat that fit into a briefcase would be pretty useless for the average pattern maker or grader :) as it’d be way too small.

    These roll up digitizing tablets aren’t hard to find on the web. I couldn’t recommend a specific brand but maybe Mike could.

  18. Nina says:

    As a former CAD Specialist, the 5 days of classes were never enough time to teach more than the basic PDS software. Some students had never touched a computer.

    “No, your other left.”

    My classes grew in attendance and individual attention became more difficult, especially for the patternmakers who resisted the training. Their fears were valid. Management did expect them to produce, on the CAD system, the following Monday.

    “Just think of it as a new tool that will add value to your skills.”

    By midweek, with their eyes glazed over, they would recount their nightmares.

    “I dreamed my boyfriend was a jumpsuit, and I couldn’t get his top and bottom to fit together.”

    On the last day, I gave them hope.
    Watching a pattern practically make itself, right before their eyes, they sat there mesmerized. I could see the wheels turning, the light bulb go on. And I left them with these final words:

    “Just don’t show your boss!”

  19. J C Sprowls says:

    I found one vendor, BTW, it’s VectorTec. Their mats do appear to be large enough for most apparel pattern pieces (e.g. 56″ long). But, it’s really a matter if the CAD system supports this particular input device.

    The 36X48 would suit my purposes; but, I’m just wishing at the moment. Though, it is nice to cost out the potential investment so I can put it on the radar.

  20. calista says:

    Speaking of pattern makers, has anyone ever used mysampleroom.com? They link to your blog Kathleen, so I was wondering if they were reputable?

  21. Alice Gonçalves says:


    I find this information on Cad very interesting. I live in Oporto Portugal and I am pattern maker . I have just started learning how to use the lectra system to draft patterns. Unfortunately we do not find any books on this subject in our city. Could you kindly inform me where I could purchase
    books that will explain and teach me how to create formal jackets , drapped dresses and high couture garments. Also how to grade them properly by computer.

    Yours Sincerely

    Alice Gonçalves

  22. Kathleen says:

    Hi Alice. Most pattern making books are easily located on Amazon. You might have better luck with the Amazon.uk site since you’re closer. You’ll probably be better off with the pattern books put out by Batsford or Blackwell Science since those use metric measures. Good luck!

  23. ken simmons says:

    I too resist CAD because it takes something I love to do, use paper, pencils, rulers, gadgets and a table that you walk artound and turns that skill into a sedentary one sitting and staring into a computer screen. I hate that. I like work tables and paper. Luckily I am close to retireing.

  24. stephen dailey says:

    wow! what an interesting read Kathleen, I am also a women’s tailored coats and jacket pattern maker in England, i toile my style on the stand (Dolly, or mannequin) then create a nett pattern from those toile pieces, then digitize the nett pattern shapes into the Gerber system, then complete my pattern on screen, this chappy wanting everything done on the system, is absolutely bonkers!!!! i felt you pain in him forcing you to work his way, even when he doesn’t have a clue about pattern making, well done for moving on, your sanity comes first xxx

  25. D P says:

    hand-made pattern is definitely superior to the CAd system pattern. I am well versed in both metods. CAD is really good for spotswear where precise fit is not a big deal. For really tailored garments you want to use the hand method, simply because you get a more three-dimensional shape.After that you can digitize for outsourcing purposes.In other words CAD patterns are flat whilst hand-made patterns have a more three-dimensionl shape.

  26. mychelle says:

    I agree with D P that making patterns by hand produces a more 3 dimentional result. I believe that it’s because of the scale and the
    artistic aspect of being able to shape pieces manually.

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