This month my work has kind of overtaken my life, leaving no time for much else! Dinners have been rushed heat-and-eat affairs, marathon training has fizzled out, and as for reading sewing blogs – well, forget it! Now the big deadline has been and gone I have finally found time to blog – that’s far more important to catch up on than the housework, don’t you think?!
If you have ever been curious enough to click on the ‘about me’ link above, you will know I work in the fashion biz, and we have just completed our Winter 2017 collection. Over the next month the collection will be shown to the buyers of boutiques and department stores, who consequently place orders for the styles they would like to sell in their store. Once the orders are collated the factory gets down to the business of producing the garments to fulfill all the orders – in time for delivery at the beginning of next year.
Officially I am the patternmaker at the company I work for, but being a relatively small company we all work as a team and I am very involved in the design and production processes too. This season I was given the task of designing a side label to the main range (at quite short notice, which is why I have been working nights and weekends lately!) Producing a collection for sale is a ton of work, so now this particular one is over let me give you a realistic insight into what is involved.
Design research is where it all starts, but this rarely happens at work, in reality it is a constant part of life. I am always looking looking looking and vacuuming up ideas for later filtration! From these ideas, new ones develop. Sometimes they evolve gradually, sometimes they pop into your mind from nowhere, sometimes they come midway through a project, sometimes they come in the middle of the night. As creative home sewers I know most of you do exactly the same thing!
At the start of each season I sort the ideas I have gathered into logistical themes and establish trends to pursue, as well as revisit previous best sellers and collection staples. We present ideas at a range planning meeting with management which involves a lot of chopping, and changing, and brainstorming, and additions, and subtractions, to arrive at a rough plan for the collection. This will also change! The meeting takes a whole day and is mentally exhausting – taking practically another whole day to recover.
Next we get to work making the actual samples – the designer and I both pattern, cut and make all the initial samples. Before starting the pattern I have to first plan the finer details of the design, almost always by sketching a rough tech drawing – a sort of mental plan I suppose.
Often an existing pattern is adapted to make a new pattern. A good example of this would be when making a shirt – rather than drafting a whole new pattern for a classic shirt, I save time by using a tried and true pattern and redesign parts of it, like add a bell sleeve or different collar or whatever the design is to be.
For more complex designs I prefer to start from scratch with a basic block. I might draft the bodice pieces only and test them out, making sure the style lines are in a good position or that the hang is correct, before starting on the skirt or sleeve parts. I gradually build the pattern that way. I also prefer to cut straight into the actual fabric rather than a substitute, the way I work it saves a lot of time and rarely wastes fabric.
All my patterns are drafted ‘flat’ but I will sometimes cut out a piece and drape it on the stand to check the fall before proceeding too far. Usually I will make the pattern pieces for the outer shell first and sew them in the right fabric to ensure I have the look I want, and only then complete the facings/lining pattern pieces. This way any pattern changes made are only necessary to the shell pieces.
Depending on the complexity of the garment (and the number of interruptions to your day with other things like production issues), I complete 1-2 samples per day. Being the most experienced member of the team I do the more complex garments like coats and things, which take a lot more time than say a tank top. That is cool with me because I like to do the challenging things!
We also have to organise trims – getting buttons dyed to match, selecting buckles, zips, or whatever is necessary. All these details need to be recorded on a style sheet along with their cost, so we can calculate the total garment cost. If the costing is too high for the market, we need to find a way to cut back on the materials (maybe use fewer buttons) or labour content (maybe use a simpler construction technique) to make production of the design viable.
Once the sample is sewn, finished and pressed we do a fitting on our fit model. The garment is assessed, and either approved or altered. Once a design is approved, we organise the factory to produce further identical samples – one for each sales agent and the media. So we don’t simply make one collection, but several duplicate collections – a lot of work just to get to the selling stage! If there is a runway show planned, that can mean even more samples in a catwalk size.
Gradually the collection builds up sample by sample. We produce about 80 samples for each collection. It is rewarding to see it coming together, and sometimes new ideas are added or stories built upon. As the deadline looms things can get very frantic and you definitely need to work well under pressure, but we always seem to get there in the end. It is always a relief to finish, relax a bit, then think what the next job is on the agenda.
Invariably that is to tidy my chaotic workroom!