This is going to sound really smug, but it’s not like that. I’m actually surprised this is such a mystery to most people. When I was in high school, I’d pore over European fashion magazines, wishing I had a machine that could scan (before scanners) a photo from the pages (usually Gaultier) and make a copy of the actual garment, only you know, at a price I could afford. Well, I went to fashion school and quickly became that machine. I was fortunate to have an awesome patternmaking teacher in Connie Amaden Crawford at FIDM. She helped me uncover my talent for draping & patternmaking.
When I went to business school many years later, the founder of Net Impact, Mark Albion, told us not to get too good at something we don’t want to do forever. Well, I’m afraid it might be too late for me, as it’s been damn near impossible to convince anyone I’m smart enough to do something completely different. This talent CAN translate to more abstract challenges, and I desperately want it to. I want use this ability to help companies find ways to clean up their supply chain- to develop socially & environmentally responsible products.
So I went to business school and got an MBA in sustainability at a top school. I can look at a problem, incorporate what I know about the subject as well as knowledge I’ve accumulated that others may not see as relevant to the current problem. I can find ways to work around 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 a lot of questions about the work I’ve done most of my life. I find it incredibly boring most of the time, and would really, really like to get paid to use my brain for a change. There, I said it. I’m too smart to work in fashion, just like my FIDM design teacher once told me. For many years, I really didn’t care, I was having fun, getting great employee discounts, and getting paid a lot of money to be creative. Most people crave a job that pays them to be creative. Well, anything can get boring after awhile. I didn’t realize just how talented I was until I helped an equally experienced patternmaker figure something out. 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 this sketch. I read 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. Alva does body scans of thousands of women and comes up with a perfect (as close as anyone can get) “average” size 4. 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?
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, proving models really are quite useless. 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.