Should Pattern Designers Know How to Draft and Grade Patterns?

pattern grading

The view on my computer screen has looked a lot like this for the last few days

I got all the graded patterns back for my new book last week and am currently in the process of getting them ready to go to print.

I know how to grade patterns, but I choose not to do it myself because:

  1. I don’t have the right software to do it digitally,
  2. manual grading takes forever,
  3. it can be quite a boring job and I’d rather be doing other more creative tasks!

When patterns come back from the graders I get a full size set on card to use in classes and a digital set that can go to print.

graded patterns

I always find that the digital patterns require a bit of tweaking, just a bit, but some truing up here and there. Because I can draft and grade patterns myself and have been doing it for a long time, I know what to look for. But I started thinking while doing this job today; I wonder if all pattern designers do this, or for that matter, would even know to check their grading?

I know of pattern designers who don’t even draft their own patterns, so presumably they have no idea how to grade a pattern. I also see people who appear to have only just started to sew releasing their own patterns. How are these patterns checked and trued?

Now, I’m not saying I’m a saint and know all there is to know about pattern drafting and grading, in fact I’m happy to always be learning. But, I do know the importance of trued pattern pieces, carefully placed and matched notches, and I’ve gained that knowledge through years of practical experience.

Unlike sewing, pattern cutting is an exact science; it needs to be right. If the pattern’s out, the resulting garment won’t sew together easily and won’t look right.  It’s like baking a cake; you can’t change the quantity of flour without changing the quantity of sugar, eggs and butter (I’m no cook, but I do grasp a few basics!)

But is this ok? We can’t all be brilliant at everything. Why shouldn’t a designer get someone else to draft their patterns and/or do their grading without feeling the need to check any of it? My feeling is that it’s how connected that designer wants to be to their customer. If you want to ask a question about a pattern, think you might even have spotted a mistake in a pattern or want to see a sew-along or pattern hack for a particular pattern, what’s the point in asking a pattern designer who has no idea how it was created in the first place?

What’s your experience? I’d love to know.

10 responses to “Should Pattern Designers Know How to Draft and Grade Patterns?

  1. I always assumed that designers knew how to make a garment from the bottom up. But then again, if you understand how the whole process works, isn’t it best to do the steps you are great at and love and leave the other steps to someone you trust, who does good work, so that you can be proud to put your name on the final garment!

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  2. I’m pretty much a beginner and I have caught a few mistakes. Mostly I think my sewing is about customizing and altering cloths or patterns that I have so I don’t have a problem with altering a pattern if I see a problem starting.

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  3. I would think designing and drafting would go hand in hand. I also have wondered how relatively new sewists draft patterns. I guess in the end, I would rather have them source out that work and get it right than draft something with lots of errors. But ideally, I think it is best if the designer drafts the pattern so they know it inside and out.

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  4. Like Susan I have also experienced problems with patterns from magazines, both with patterns, which have been incorrectly graded or where sizing has been marked incorrectly, and with instructions, either leaving a step out or referring to some marking on the pattern that is not there. I have usually brought this to the attention of the magazine but, although I get an apology, I do not necessarily get told where the fault lies – with the drafter, the editing or the printer. It is the beginner who is likely to be enticed to sew by magazines. Wendy, I should say that I made one of your patterns from a magazine and found both the pattern itself and the instructions precise and clear.

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    • Thanks for your comment Barbara. I’m sure the magazines appreciate your feedback, I guess in their defence they’re under such time pressure that unless lots of people have spotted the same mistake, they don’t have the time to work out where the error occurred. It could only be a good thing to do though, that’s the only way to ensure they’re not repeated. I’m VERY happy that my pattern met your exacting standards!

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  5. No problem in my eyes if the designer can’t draft, but gets someone qualified to draft their design in order to sell good patterns.
    Conversely, I’d be cheesed off if I sewed up a pattern that had errors because a designer did it themselves (poorly) instead of getting someone qualified to do it.

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  6. You’re so right Wendy, I’ve used a few of the free patterns and templates that come with magazines now (I won’t name names!) and I’ve found quite a number of errors. Like you, I know what I’m looking out for but beginners and novices won’t and they’ll be disappointed with the outcome and probably think it’s their lack of skill rather than the pattern. I was making up one pattern recently where the making instructions left out a whole segment on how to finish the armholes-what, leave them raw?? I’ve been sewing a long time and I want others to love doing it as much as I do so it isn’t helpful when a few designers set out their stall and are only a few steps ahead many novices. Yes, be enthusiastic but but get experts to help you when it matters.

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    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Susan! I thought this post might provoke a few conversations….!! I’ve had a student recently struggling in class with the pattern that I think you’re talking about. It’s a tricky subject, because I feel like I’m leaving myself open to criticism – I’m not claiming to be perfect, just that I’m starting from an informed position. As a teacher, I totally sympathise with your angle on this ie. that of beginner dressmakers and how incorrect patterns will colour their experience of learning to sew. I also think that’s where a pattern designer who does draft and/or grade their own patterns come into their own too – you can contact them about a pattern and ask questions that the designer is likely to know the answer to! I think Jen at Grainline is a perfect example; even though the business has grown recently and now has employees, the Grainline blog is a wealth of information about using their patterns.

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