What are garment patterns anyway?

One may assume that if you’re thinking of starting a clothing brand, that you’ve studied or have some experience in the clothing or fashion industry -but as I’ve discovered, this is more than often not the case. We have many people trying to launch a clothing label as a secondary income, with big dreams that they can be the next success story like Hurley X or Billabong.

Well anything is possible but you need some education – hence this post . One of the things that may befuddle the newby in the  world of fashion are the patterns. I will try to clarify patterns for you, so that you are somew

hat prepared and understand it a bit better. This is not a lesson on how to make patterns but rather an explanation of what patterns are and its purpose.

What are patterns?

Patterns are the shapes/templates for the various fabric parts which are sewn up to form the garment. These templates are made up of cardboard cut-outs and represent parts like the sleeve or pocket, etc.

How are patterns developed according to your style?

The Pattern-Maker (PM) starts the pattern-making process from a universal pattern called a block (made of cardboard). So before you even approach a PM, they should have a basic un-tailored version of say, a t shirt. You then present him/her with either a sample or an explanation of what you want. He/she will then amend the basic block according to your specifications/styling and this amended block becomes your base pattern or first pattern size. With your base size you should be handed a detailed specification sheet of measurements, as well as a sketch of the finished product. This is vital for communication through the rest of the manufacturing process.

NB.  At this point a sample of your base size must be produced from the material you will be using in production.The pattern may have to be amended several times before you get the base size 100% perfect.

Grading your pattern.

Grading is the term given when scaling your base pattern to create your other sizes.

So, you now have the measurements for your base size and you will now need to determine the measurements for the other sizes. A base size is normally a size Medium, so measurements will be needed for the other sizes in your size chart (ie. small, large, extra large, double extra large and so forth).

Pattern-Graders normally have sets of grading measurements (increments) which they will use to scale your base pattern. These scaled patterns  become your various sizes.

NB. You have to be clear before grading as to how you want the fit to be across the sizes (fitted, baggy,etc), so that the grader can use the correct increments. Otherwise, provide samples of t shirts across the sizes (if available) so that grading is accurate.

Marker making.

Markers are an arrangement of your different pattern sizes on brown paper and are used as guides for the fabric cutters.

The fabric is meticulously piled by the act of layering  on a cutting table and are sliced according to your markers’ lengths. The markers are placed on top for the cutter, who follow the guides with his cutting machine so that multiple garments are cut simultaneously.

The cost for marker making is usually included in Cut, Make, Trim /CMT costs.

 NB. A good set of markers can reduce the cost of your product considerably if it’s made properly as you’ll save on the biggest cost input, ie. fabric.


 Things to remember when developing your pattern.

  • It often takes a few attempts to get your pattern perfect.
  • Always consider the manufacturing process when designing a garment and how it affects your patterns and the quality of the final product.
  • If you are using different CMT’s, it’s always good to have 2 sets of patterns for each style.
  • It is very important to indicate to your PM what type of fabric will be used because a stretch fabric will have a different pattern to a non-stretch, even when the styles are identical.

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