Clients are sometimes puzzled why an apparel pattern-maker or pattern grader asks so many questions. As a pattern grader I want to be sure your designs fit your customers. Your customers should be able to buy the same size each time they make a purchase. The work I do must be both accurate and consistent. The grade should be consistent between the styles I work on and the styles anyone else has graded for you.
You might think there are hard and fast rules to grading garments. There are not. Asking questions demonstrates your grader knows what they are doing. No one is questioning the skills of a pattern grader you have used previously. We want to help you create a consistent fit. When should you worry? When your pattern grader doesn’t ask questions. If you tell them you want to run the style in women’s sizes 2-16 and the grader doesn’t ask anything before grading, that is a problem! There is no industry standard for how much each size should grade.
You put in a lot of work to get to this point. You have created a garment that fits great in one size. A well graded pattern maintains the integrity of this work across all sizes. A poorly graded pattern jeopardizes all your hard work to date.
Questions Your Pattern Grader will ask?
What’s your base size? This is the original size the pattern was created to fit.
Who is your target customer? Age? Fitness level? Ethnicity?
Will the style be alpha or numeric? Alpha sizes are combined sizes, like a women’s Medium (8-10).
If alpha which sizes are combined? Equivalent sizes are pretty consistent in the industry for men but alpha size equivalents for women change between brands. A women’s size Medium might be 6-8, 8-10 or 10-12.
A basic size chart like you use on your website to help your customers find the right size, tells us your basic body width grade. Unfortunately, the size chart usually only gives us basic width measurements such as chest, waist, and hip. The size chart doesn't tell me your customers are mountain climbers in which case I will grade the shoulder width differently than for a brand marketed to seventy-year-old bird watching enthusiasts.
Below is a picture of a graded shirt. Each dot is a grade point. You can see the chest, waist, and sweep are only a few of the points graded.
Measurement Charts from Previous Styles
If you have been developing apparel for multiple seasons, you may already have a graded measurement chart for the new style you want graded. Your pattern grader should follow that chart. If not, the grader may ask to see charts from previous styles. Measurement charts are usually included in technical packages/specifications. If one person created all previous measurement charts for your brand, they should follow a consistent system. All neck widths should grade the same. All body lengths for knit tops should grade the same. All long sleeves should grade the same. More points are included than the size chart.
Previous Graded Patterns
The holy grail! Previously graded patterns tell us the grade points on the measurement chart but additional things like the grade distribution and additional grade points that may not be on the measurement chart. Measurements like armhole depth are not frequently included on a garment measurement chart; but help your grader more than the final armhole circumference.
Reviewing the grade distribution on pants is especially important. Many people in the industry have different opinions on how much of the grade to place at the rises versus the side seams. I can achieve the same measurements as someone else but the distribution might be different. Usually the goal is to keep every size shaped the same. Occasionally we will break that rule. As an example, we may allow the front rise angle to shift if you think your customers over a certain size have a more pronounced belly. If we ask to see a previous pant you have run; we are only asking to confirm the grading “philosophy” that has been used on your styles in the past.
Will we blindly copy your previous patterns? No. If we find something unusual, we will ask you about the issue. There may be a valid reason the pattern is graded that way. But we won’t perpetuate an error.
Don’t Worry If You Don’t Have Answers
If you don’t have the information requested by the pattern grader, don’t worry. I will gladly help my clients determine the right grading for their target market. I do charge a consulting fee for this work. I do not make the same recommendation to every client. We discuss who your competitors are and the demographics of your target market. I’ll review your competitors’ grades and size charts. I’ll review available anthropometric data for your target market. I’ll grade the type of styles you intend to create before finalizing the grade. Then I’ll create a template that all your measurement charts can be started from to maintain consistency.
Sometimes we meet well established brands that have several different factories making products and they have relied on the factory for pattern-making and grading. Unfortunately, I can almost guarantee inconsistencies. Pattern-makers and graders do great work, but every grader and pattern-maker has their own methods. If you are in this situation, you need to create consistent measurement grade rules and graded block patterns. Block patterns are appreciated by graders. They can import a digital block pattern and copy the grade rules directly to the new style. Using graded blocks guarantees consistency in grading. This way you can work directly with the best factory for the product type without worries about consistency.
For more information on grading visit our previous post on Reviewing Nested Graded Patterns.
For more information on what a block pattern is, we recommend What is a Block from Fashion-Incubator.
Copyright 2019 Fireflyline LLC
The process for creating a well fitting garment can be difficult to explain. There is a lot more to the process than assigning a set of measurements. A nice fitting garment needs to make the wearer look great, not simply fit around the body and stay put. Even those in the industry struggle to understand the nuances.
⦁ Why doesn't it fit, we sent the factory measurements?
⦁ Why do samples from two factories fit different?
⦁ Why do some customers love our fit and others are completely disappointed?
If these problems were easy to solve, technical designers would be out of work. Assigning garment measurements is not enough to create a well fitting garment. A square table and a round table can measure the same dimension across, but they don't fit in the same space or convey the same aesthetic.
What makes a garment fit well?
⦁ Balance. Horizontal seams should be parallel to the floor. Vertical seams should be perpendicular to the floor.
⦁ No drag lines. Those puckery areas that point to a problem.
⦁ Comfort. Garments should allow movement for the end use they are designed.
⦁ Fit preference. Not everyone wants their clothes to fit the same.
Yes, designers ask to break the above rules sometimes to push the boundaries of style.
Pattern shapes are as important as measurements. Two garment patterns can have the same measurements and fit differently. The pattern shape can be the difference between a garment that appears dated or one that feels contemporary and stylish.
The tee shirts in the below images share the same measurements that would be included in a basic measurement specification. The first has hip shape in the side seam. The sleeve is straight, allowing ease at the elbow. The second has less room at the hip. You can see the pant is bleeding through in the 3D render. The sweep and hip could both be eased out to maintain the same shape and aesthetic. The elbow has also been shaped to give a slimmer effect. Both of these garments would be acceptable fits. But you probably wouldn't find a single brand running both. For consistency one pattern shape should be followed consistently.
The below garment follows the same measurement specification. But it does not fit well. The shoulder slope is too flat (angle of the shoulder seam). This is causing the garment to hike (CF is pulling up). The armhole shape forms a V where the side seams meet. The sleeve cap shape is also different. This is causing excess fabric along the armhole. These are the types of issues technical designers and pattern-makers spend time correcting in live fit sessions and communicating to factories.
Communicating the pattern shapes to the factory along with measurements creates a better fitting initial prototype. Vital time and effort are saved for both the factory and the retailer.
Ways to communicate pattern shapes to manufacturers:
⦁ Send a block pattern. Allow the factory to adjust to match the new design.
⦁ Send the pattern from a previous style that sold well.
⦁ Create a pattern for the new style to send to the factory.
Why is creating the pattern for the new style listed last? Most large retail brands do not dedicate in house resources to this effort. Pattern makers located at the factory can often create the pattern cheaper. They also can work directly with engineers to make sure the pattern is efficient to sew, fits the marker well, and is adjusted for fabric shrinkage. Designers who want a high degree of control over garment fit and drape may employ an in-house pattern-maker.
The second step is to make sure the factory followed direction. Manufacturers should always send a copy of the pattern with the fit sample for evaluation. Electronic pattern-making can save valuable time. Even if you are not creating patterns in-house, a system can be used for receiving and reviewing patterns created by manufacturers. The pattern you sent to the factory to follow can be overlayed with the newly created pattern for comparison.
Consistency is key. Your customers need to feel like your tee shirts feel similar to your sweaters. If your marketing materials show a sweater layered over a button-down shirt, can the customer achieve that look purchasing the same size of sweater and shirt?
Consistency requires communication and management. The leaders of technical design and design are charged with the responsibility to maintain fit consistency and provide direction. Verbal or written communication is not enough. Technical designers and designers need to visualize the intended fit. Invite designers and technical designers to join fittings for other product categories. You can also hold a show and tell with staff from multiple product categories to discuss the fit. Document the fittings with photos or video that can be shared.
The right fit
So all your garments fit consistently. But is it the right fit? If you are a mass market retailer how do you decide how your garment should fit in the first place?
1. Ask a designer to dictate the ease over body and pick a fit model they think looks good in their designs.
2. Compare your fit to your competitors.
3. Analyze the body shapes of your target market.
The answer is really a bit of all three. Design should help guide the brand aesthetic, so they should be involved but the fit process is not a dictatorship. You need know what competitors are doing, but be aware that competitors product may not fit better. Body scan data can give you insight to the body shape of your target market. Organizations such as TC2 or Alvanon can advise how to interpret the data. ASTM provides standardized body measurements for infants and children. The goal should be to please majority of your customers, not everyone.