Your first meeting with a pattern maker

[Updated 10/23/2016] In continuation of yesterday when I explained all that a designer needs to bring to a first meeting with a pattern maker, Christine writes:

I will be in Los Angeles next week meeting with a new pattern making company (forum posting). It’s my first time meeting with any pattern makers and I’m not sure how the first visits usually go. Do you recommend I try to set up a few more appointments with other pattern making services in the area to get quotes for my baby wear line (6-10pcs)? What should I expect when checking out their facilities? I have so many questions, should I except them to charge me for the first meeting? Will they give me a quote on the spot and give me some time to decide if I want to use their service?

The two easy questions first:

  • Do set up more appointments if you can. A comparison is nice.
  • Don’t expect to pay for the interview (first meeting). If the situation evolves into a consulting session, they should tell you so and what it will cost. Some people have been burned (charged $750 for a 2.5 hour consult) so confirm at the outset.

Will they give me a quote on the spot?
It depends on the company and how complete your details are. If you have brought everything listed in yesterday’s entry, then it’s possible. If your package is incomplete, they may not. What you can expect is a ball park estimate. They should tell you their hourly rate and how long it typically takes for this sort of job. Usually these costs will be itemized with separate charges. You don’t have to take all of the recommended services, it depends on your needs. Here are the most basic items you should receive quotes for:

  • The sketch if it’s not ready
  • The pattern
  • Cutting a sample
  • Sewing the sample

I suggest you get quotes for services you will need after the pattern and sampling is done because you may not want to switch horses and need to know if their prices are competitive. Reminder: you shouldn’t contract to have these services performed until after you’ve gone to market (or made some sales however you’re doing it) is completed (in the book).

  • Digitizing*
  • Grading
  • Marker Making
  • Cost of marker printing
  • Tech Pack
  • Any technical sketches (if needed for the tech pack)

*I never cease to be amazed at the ways in which some companies pad their invoices. Digitizing should be included in the cost of pattern making or grading but we recently ran into a situation in which one of our members was charged $20 per piece. This is highway robbery. It takes five minutes maximum to digitize the most complicated pattern piece I can think of.

The pattern service shouldn’t expect you to decide immediately. In fact, you may not be able to get in immediately so if you are fairly certain you want to go with them, get on their schedule. Some firms are backed up two or three months. Actually, some firms may not take you at all, more on that below.

What should I expect when checking out their facilities?
Again, your mileage may vary. See this chapter of the book (free) which also explains qualifications. I can tell you about my shop and Patternworks Inc (review) as two ranges. My shop is about 5,000 sqft; I have two 48 foot cutting tables, all pattern tools and materials, StyleCAD pattern software, 4′ x 6′ digitizer, a 72″ plotter, 30 industrial sewing machines -but only one pattern maker- me. Patternworks Inc is still considered to be a small business but their shop is probably 15,000 sq feet, they have all tools, 10 CAD workstations, several plotters and digitizers, a cutting table, maybe 25 different kinds of industrial sewing machines and about 15 employees. Of these, two are full time stitchers, one tech pack person (also does illustrations), a marker maker, an IT guy and the rest are pattern makers. From any pattern maker, you should minimally expect the proper tools and materials, a good table, and sewing machines. A CAD system is nice but not mandatory. Be sure it’s a real CAD system, not a home sewing one masquerading as industrial. [You can tell home sewing CAD from the real thing because the former typically market themselves as being suitable for small companies and independent designers; they also list prices on their websites. Industrial CAD sellers tend to market in terms of efficiency and cost effectiveness and you have to call or email for the price. If the software costs less than $5,000., it’s not the real thing.]

Why a firm may not take you
Ideally, you hire someone who is interviewing you rather than you interviewing them. They should be selective. There are three main reasons someone may not take you, namely your lack of preparedness, they don’t handle your product type or the budget you’ve allotted is insufficient. There’s one last catch-all category of why someone may not take you that is ambiguous.

Most of us are pattern makers, not consultants. Necessarily our jobs have changed as entrepreneurship has increased but there exists reticence to provide consulting services because we are task oriented and consulting is so much talking. We will decline ill prepared clients because in the course of services, too much time will need to be spent explaining basic things to them (no matter how intelligent they are) and we’re not billing for it. I do know a pattern maker who charges for patterns with consulting built in; circa 2006 (I’m sure it’s more now) she was charging $850 for a 2 piece pattern (baby bloomer) that should only cost $100 at most. Increasingly, service providers are recommending that their clients read my book. Some services won’t take you if you haven’t; it saves everyone a lot of time, money and grief.

Your product type
A larger firm like Patternworks can handle just about any kind of product type but this won’t be true of everyone. Or put it this way, it shouldn’t be true of everyone. I would avoid a pattern maker who says they can do anything, you’re asking for trouble. I make referrals to various firms based on the product. I have a preferred service for handbags, sportswear, knits, technical products, whatever. Then there’s preferences. I personally don’t like basic styles, I like complicated things like leather, suits and outerwear. I don’t do swimwear or foundations. It’s not that I can’t, I just don’t have extensive industrial experience to know all of the ways those can be loused up. In summary, a firm shouldn’t say they can do everything although some can get close if they have a lot of pattern makers on staff.

Obviously no one wants to finish a job only to find the customer doesn’t have the money to pay. I seriously doubt anyone will run a credit check on you but they will ask if you’ve budgeted for these expenses and if so, how much. Is your budget aligned to the cost of estimated services? Some people get a retainer up front. A friend of mine charges a $500 retainer per style to new customers. She refunds the balance if applicable but says this policy has been effective at eliminating people who aren’t serious. You’d be surprised how many people decide they don’t want to do this mid stream. If this happens to you, don’t be too embarrassed to speak up right away so they can save further loss of their time. Ideally you would pay for whatever had been done thus far, even if the work is not completed. Lastly, payment is expected at the time of pick up or shipping.

Ambiguous reasons
This is a big catch-all category. Obviously no one wants someone who is a prima donna or likely to be a pain in the butt. Character is surprisingly an issue, are you slimey? Don’t laugh, some people are and one can’t know how you can hurt us. Are you likely to be someone who will damage a pattern maker’s reputation by “fixing” patterns after the fact? If you’ve done it poorly and a contractor asks who made it, we look bad because a client rarely volunteers they performed a post-op on the pattern. One reason I avoid clients is if their line lacks continuity. A good service won’t be so hungry they will allow a client to do something that’s not in their best interest. Speaking of not in your best interest, many won’t take a new untried designer who insists on having their pattern made and then graded at the same time (see the book). Or if they do take you, don’t be surprised if you have to pay in advance. No credit is extended on those jobs because if you make such poor decisions like this, you’ve likely made other poor ones and will run out of money soon.

Last of all, pattern makers are friendly with each other (we’re colleagues, not competitors). Never leave a service under negative circumstances unless you’ve been burnt and there’s no other recourse. I still think it’s better to pay and then sue in small claims because the other party cannot then say you were a no-pay. Regardless, if you’ve burnt somebody or conversely, a pattern maker has burnt you with bad product, word gets around. Worst case, it doesn’t hurt to join the forum because we all compare notes and often, someone will go to bat for you if you’ve gotten a raw deal.

Related entries:
How to hire a pattern maker pt.46
How to hire a pattern maker pt.47
How to hire a pattern maker pt.48 (some red flags)
Pattern maker vents about clients
What we expect from designers
Problem pattern maker
Bizarre pattern maker
Interviewing tips for pattern makers (peer to peer expectations)
Sending patterns off for correction
Bewildered by pattern services?

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  1. Reid says:

    Thanks for this one, I have been reading and re-reading the book, as I work through my stuff, and tommorow, this is me. First meeting with a pattern maker. Thanks for your knowledge.

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