The art of fashion is in a class all its own. A painter, for instance, summons images from the depths of her imagination, blending colors and strokes until her canvas is covered. A fashion designer goes through a similar creative process, but the image she creates is only the beginning: drawings must be transformed into a wearable product that fits standard proportions, can be copied with minimal error, and can be graded into different sizes. All of this has to happen before a garment can be produced, distributed, and sold.
That being said, the journey from paper to finished product begins with a pattern. The designer’s target market (gender, age, special size, etc.) will determine the standard measurements to begin with. Several measurements are utilized: bust, waist, and hip circumference; chest, back, and upper arm width; and torso, leg, and arm length, to name a few. Once the pattern maker has the right proportions, she will draw a line for each body measurement on thick oak tag paper, including unique details of the garment’s design such as the neckline and “ease” (how tight or loose the garment will fit). A pattern maker will draw and cut different patterns for the front and back of pants, skirts, bodices, sleeves, pockets, cuffs, collars, and embellishments such as bows or sashes.
The most basic function of a pattern is to serve as a stencil or guide for fabric cutting. However, a pattern must also include all of the information needed to assemble the garment. For example, pattern edges are notched to tell sewers where to join two pieces of fabric. The notches must be placed perfectly to create a completely even and symmetrical garment. A pattern maker must also include several internal markings to instruct sewers. These include the placement of zippers, pockets, horizontal and vertical stripes, buttonholes, and buttons as well as darts, seams, closures, pleats, and seam allowances.
A pattern maker’s ultimate goal is to design a pattern that can be sewn perfectly by anyone in a reasonable amount of time. The first step to achieving that goal is measuring and marking patterns with complete accuracy. A good pattern maker assumes that cutters, sewers, graders, etc., down the line will make slight mistakes when using the pattern. For example, if each person makes a tiny mistake of 1/32”, the total error can grow to be 1/8” or more, which is enough to create crooked cuffs, collars, pockets and stripes. This can be minimized with a precise pattern. The second step is marking patterns according to a universal color-coding system. By doing this, the pattern maker ensures that the sewer can create the garment without learning the pattern maker’s language.
It is no wonder that large fashion brands employ separate artists to design apparel and create apparel patterns. The two jobs require very different skill sets; the former is creative and conceptual while the later is technical and process-oriented. A good option for smaller brands is to outsource their pattern making needs. Apparel Network, for example, will consult with your design team extensively before creating the perfect patterns for your garments.