How to Solve Any Problem With Fabric

I can look at a problem, incorporate what I know about the subject as well as knowledge I’ve accumulated that others may not consider relevant to the current problem. I can find ways to work through a problem and well, “Make it Work”. Tim Gunn isn’t the only sample room manager saying that, it’s part of the design process for any new product. Once we find a way to make it work at a reasonable cost, we can put it into production.

A lot of people ask me about the work I’ve done most of my life- patternmaking. Most people outside the fashion industry don’t even know this job exists, or how it translates to the development of any new product. I didn’t realize just how unusual I was until an equally experienced patternmaker told me my ability to interpret a sketch was not normal. Draping is the easiest thing in the world to me, so it was hard for me to pick one garment that represented a challenge. The design associate at Burning Torch who was wearing this dress told me she felt it was a good representation of what sets me apart from most patternmakers.

Step 1:

The designer gives me a sketch. I study it, then ask her questions, usually about construction- what type of seams do you want, what’s the length of the garment, etc. The reference pattern in this case is one I draped from scratch, and the new pattern wound up being quite different from the reference, as is normal.

Step 2:

I grab some similar fabric, keep my pins and scissors handy and go to work. This dress form is the best I’ve ever worked with. Alvanon does body scans of thousands of people to come up with a perfect (as close as anyone can get) “average” size. They use that data to mold this dress form. They can also scan your fit model, but that’s probably not as likely to fit a wide range of customers as their standard form.

Drapity-drape-drape-drape, pin, clip, mark, run it by the designer, final mark-up, and remove from the form to transfer to pattern paper.

Step 3:

This is the final pattern. I traced the markings from the fabric onto paper, trued them up, added seam allowance, and cut it all out. Wrote up a pattern card so the cutter and sewer would know what to do with it all. One of these pieces is “cut 2”, but all the rest only need 1 piece cut. Guess which one?

Yes, it’s on paper. This is from many years ago. Nowadays, we digitize what we’ve draped and fine-tune it on the computer.

Step 4:

Give the pattern to the cutter, who then passes the cutwork to the sewer. Stand by to answer any questions they may have. This is where it helps tremendously to be multilingual and a good team player.

 And voilá, the final garment, as worn by the Associate Designer. The model hired for the look book photo put her hand on the hip pleats, the most interesting feature of the dress. So I photographed the designer instead.

This dress is matte jersey, which has a very specific personality, as does any fabric. The fabric’s personality must be respected, or the outcome will be disastrous.

Caprice? Now you’re ready to go out there and make top dollar proving why trying to use patternmakers in Chinese factories isn’t always feasible. Sure, they’re great at t-shirt patterns, but this? Fuggedaboudit.

Unfortunately, it’s getting harder to find designers creating at this level. It’s as if merchandisers have beaten the creativity out of them. No wonder nobody wants to buy clothes anymore…